MID Devon District Council could face a legal bill of tens of thousands of pounds after an environmental co-operative whose 'green' smallholding scheme it rejected earlier this year lodged an appeal.
The London-based Ecological Land Co-operative wanted temporary permission to use land at Greenham Reach at Holcombe Rogus for a pilot project to encourage new entrants to ecological agriculture.
The proposal won support from the likes of Jonathan Porritt, Zach Goldsmith MP and the Soil Association.
Mid Devon District Council's own planning department had also recommended approval, but members of the council's planning committee refused the scheme in June.
Now the applicant has decided to appeal the decision and is seeking a full public inquiry in front of a planning inspector in order to fully debate the merits of its scheme.
The aim was for the small holding to be as 'low impact' as possible with environmental measures on site to include an array of solar panels and waste water treatment system. The applicant said it also wished to use the land as a research station to gain a further understanding of small-scale agricultural production.
The council is understood to be bolstering its legal team by calling in a barrister with experience of public inquiries to fight the case, with the legal costs estimated to be as much as £40,000. If the appellants wins, the council could have to pay further costs and to take account of planning officer time taken up in preparing the case.
In originally turning down the scheme, the planning committee judged there was "no essential need" for tenant farmers to live on the site, questioned the viability of the scheme's business and believed if granted, it could "set a precedent" for further dwellings in the countryside.
No date has been set for the inquiry but it will not be heard before next year. The smallholdings would have been broken up into three separate plots but as all raise identical planning issues it is suggested a single planning inquiry would save time and costs. Such an inquiry would be expected to last three days with the appellants indicating they intend to call up to eight witnesses.
Zoe Wangler from the social enterprise said the ELC had only ever been seeking a temporary planning permission for five years to establish whether the principle of the project worked.
She said: "It was just a temporary permission, if at the end of five years we had not delivered on what we set out, the permission could be revoked and the land returned to its original. Councillors could have approved it then and saved all sides this extra time and money."