THE rural home and business of a couple and their children have been saved by councillors who shunned the advice of planning officers to save their countryside property.

The Tolkovsky family have been living and working on an off-grid 20-acre site at Jack’s Hill Farm near Melplash since Covid, relocating a carpentry and woodwork business from a Bridport trading estate.

Had councillors not overturned the recommendation to reject the application for the home it could have eventually led to the family being evicted from the site.

One of the arguments officers had against the barn, which had been converted into a home without planning consent, was that the site was not ‘sustainable.’

That led to Bridport Green councillor Kelvin Clayton to comment that it must be the first time Dorset Council had argued that a sustainable, climate-friendly, eco-business was not sustainable.

Dorset Echo: Mark Rogers from the parish council, right, speaks in support of the family

The couple are almost entirely self-sufficient on the site growing their own vegetables, keeping animals, generating their own power and have their own composting toilets.

Since being at the site they have planted more than 10,000 trees and improved the land and ecology, offering apprenticeships in woodworking and carpentry to local youngsters and have hosted more than 30 for work experience or just to learn about a self-sufficient lifestyle.

Council officers argued that there was no need for the business to be where it was, in a protected landscape, outside any development areas, and suggested it could run equally well on an industrial estate.

More than 100 people had written to the council to object to the council's recommendation to turn down the application for the home.

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At the area planning committee support for the family came from across the political parties – led by Weymouth Conservative Louie O’Leary who spoke up in favour of their industrious can-do attitude and determination to live in a sustainable way, with nature.

“My heart says what harm are these folks doing: they’re good people trying to earn a living in the way that they seek to. It’s what our forefathers in this county would have done,” he said.

Lib Dem group leader on the council Nick Ireland agreed the couple should be supported for their sustainable lifestyle – claiming that the case illustrated how out of date the Dorset Local Plan policies were.

“They are not taking advantage – this is low carbon, sustainable, off-grid. It’s ticking all the boxes we want and we should approve this,” he said.

Said Portland Labour councillor Paul Kimber: “All power to their elbow if they can make a go of it.”

There was also support for their lifestyle choice from Netherbury parish council and neighbours, including farming families.

Said Mark Rogers from the parish council: “There is no unacceptable impact and living and working on site reduces the need to commute."

Ward councillor Tony Alford was also a fan. He said while officers had to look at the strict interpretation of planning policies he believed they had given insufficient weight to policies which support the environment and ecology.

He argued that, after three burglaries, which caused devastation, the family had a need to live on the site, not only because they worked long hours and had livestock, but also for security.

Rebecca Lawton, for the Rural Landworkers' Alliance, said the country needed to do all it could to encourage low-carbon ventures like Jack's Hill.

"If Dorset is to retain a vibrant rural economy, rather than becoming a dormitory for retired people, remote-workers and tourists, it is essential that a more holistic approach is take to housing associated with rural businesses, people who want to address climate and biodiversity change."

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