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  • Writer's pictureLove Ballymena

No ‘silo mindset’ here - plans for tourist accommodation in Randalstown countryside

One farmer's ingenuity and plans to diversify by offering tourist accommodation with a difference in Randalstown is set to be considered by Antrim and Newtownabbey Borough Council when Planning Committee members meet tomorrow evening, Monday 17 April.

James Alexander is seeking planning approval for the retention of the conversion of an existing grain silo for self-catering tourist accommodation at 'the heart of his farm holding' located on Gloverstown Road, Moneynick.

The silo has been cleverly converted to provide kitchen, living and dining space on the first floor, with one bedroom and toilet on the ground floor. Three windows have been created in the walls of the silo with a door opening and a set of steps erected at the front providing access.

The converted silo with external finishing touches yet to be added.
The converted silo with external finishing touches yet to be added.

According to the application the silo has been fitted with grey coloured UPVC windows and doors, and will be finished painted in 'blue coloured metal'.

The diversification project planned in rural Randalstown is part of a wider trend in the farming community in recent years that is seeing farmers seeking to supplement income from other sources.

According to a recent NFU Mutual diversification survey nearly 40% of farmers said they plan to increase diversification in the next five years, but many are waiting for details on farm support systems and assessing the implications of the cost-of-living crisis.

Planning drawings for the converted silo.
Planning drawings for the converted silo.

A further poll revealed that nearly half of those surveyed (46%) are currently diversifying to boost farm incomes. The most common reason (29%) was safeguarding their farm's future. Other reasons included providing new opportunities for family members (18%) or seeking to make use of redundant farm buildings (7%)

In 2022, holiday accommodation - camping, glamping, caravan sites, B&B and holiday cottages - were the most popular diversifications developed by farmers, according to the findings. In joint second place were renewable energy and non-holiday property letting.

Commenting on the survey NFU Mutual farm insurance specialist Chris Walsh said: "For many farmers diversification is now essential to keep a decent income flowing into their business with high input costs seriously affecting profitability in every sector of agriculture and horticulture."

Kitchen and living space on the first floor of the silo.
Kitchen and living space on the first floor of the silo.

In a letter supporting his planning application Mr James Alexander (Jalex Livestock) confirmed the project would be "run in conjunction" with his current existing farm operations and will "provide a supplementary source of income."

Mr Alexander continued: "Given that my primary source of income is from selling cattle, there are times throughout the farming calendar when I am prohibited from doing so due to TB, which can be sudden and without warning. This proposal is a response to this financial stress and uncertainty, and a means of providing much-needed additional revenue during these challenging times.

"My intention is to do all the day-to-day running of this self-catering accommodation myself, with help from my wife, Ruth who currently handles most of the administration on our existing farm.

"Once vacated we will clean, provide fresh towels and bed linens and leave ready for the next guest. We will be on site, as the silo is located on the farm, should the guests require anything during their stay".

Fold out table providing dining space inside silo.
Dining space provided.

A planning support statement further added:

"Inflation has had a significant impact on farm spending, with the costs of fertilizer more than doubled and feed also significantly increasing. Furthmore, the farming community is under a lot of scrutiny and curtailment due to current amonia levels and this may restrict future livestock numbers and species of livestock.

"The need here is that the proposal makes use of an otherwise disused building structure on the farm to provide a further source of income for the farm business. The income will be used to offset the price increases that have been incurred over the past few years as a result of ecomonic uncertainty, Brexit, the pandemic, shortages in goods and the war in Ukraine. This proposal creates a potential steady source of income for this farm continually throughout the year."

Sofa, kitchen area and fridge with wooden floor.
First floor living space.

However, in a report to Antrim & Newtownabbey Borough Council's Planning Committee, a planning officer for the local authority has recommended the refusal for the proposal.

The planning officer confirms in his report that the design and appearance of the building is considered acceptable, the proposal will not have a detrimental impact on the character of the area and will not have an adverse impact on neighbours, nor prejudice the safety and convenience of road users.

Nonetheless based on planning policy the report also states, 'there are no overriding reasons why this development is essential in this rural location and could not be located within a settlement,' adding the application does not effectively demonstrate 'how the proposal will be ran in conjunction with the agricultural operations on the farm.'

Members are set to discuss the application tomorrow evening.


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