Plans to remove an agricultural condition from a ‘luxury’ house in Northam have been deferred for a further assessment of farming needs in the area.

Councillors at Torridge District Council’s plans committee on Thursday were sceptical of the planning history surrounding Mouna in Bidna Lane.

Permission was first granted for the house in 1976, on the condition it was used for agricultural occupancy only, but the house itself wasn’t registered for council tax until 2006.

In 2007 the applicants, Mr and Mrs Stuart Clements, said they no longer received any direct income from farming, and now they wish to remove the condition from the five-bedroom home.

But residents argued farmers still used the 12-hectares of land surrounding the house for grazing sheep year-round.

Councillor Christie said there was a ‘long and sorry history’ to the site and initially recommended refusal.

He said: “The property was registered for council tax and a year later they gave up on agriculture? I’m sorry that does not sit well with me.

“The problem is this case could be cited time-and-time-again after this. I suspect they have done it all properly but I think the error is on Torridge this time and I don’t want to be a party in any ongoing error.”

Senior solicitor Jamie Hollis said he understood the sentiment, but that any refusal would have to be backed up by planning policy.

Mouna has been on the market for seven-and-a-half years, and with the agricultural condition it can only be sold to someone within an agricultural profession, and at a discount on the market value of £1.2million.

Cllr Watson called the whole thing a ‘fiasco’ and proposed the council follow the officers’ recommendations and approve.

He said: “We’re in no position to tell anybody how much they can sell their house for, and I get the feeling we’re trying to do that.”

Committee chairman Rose Lock added: “It’s one of those applications you shouldn’t vote with your heart, you should vote for the policies.”

Councillor Christie then proposed an independent study be carried out into the farming needs. Councillors voted unanimously in favour of this and deferring their decision.

He said: “Torridge, after all this sorry history, will at last be seen to be doing the right thing.”