A CONTENTIOUS proposal to diversify a rare breeds farm into a visitor centre also featuring a whisky distillery, agricultural museum, craft gallery and tea room has been approved.

The Yorkshire Dales National Park Authority heard the Wray family’s scheme at the 235-acre Gam Farm, north of Grassington, had split the parish council and had attracted similar number of letters of objection and support.

The authority’s planning committee was told the farm boasts the largest herd of northern dairy shorthorns, 160 rare breed sheep and pigs, goats and poultry and an extensive collection of traditional farming equipment and machinery, which would be displayed with interpretation for visitors.

The whisky distillery would produce 20,000 litres of whisky a year in a new modern building, with whisky bottling, sales and tasting in farm’s the only traditional stone building. The scheme also includes a new building to house the whisky vats in replacement of a modern agricultural lean-to.

Chris Wray, who bought the farm with his wife Helen 17 years ago, told the committee that despite their best efforts, the farm could not be sustained on livestock sales alone.

A spokesman for the family said the range of attractions and facilities would “provide visitors with all they need to spend a number of hours enjoying the attraction”, and as the farm was very close to Grassington, visitors would be encouraged to walk between the farm and the village.

He said: “Contact with the rare breed livestock is something that will be very accessible to all ages and abilities, providing the main draw of the attraction, and a rewarding and enjoyable experience for visitors. Yet the diversification scheme will also provide an income for the Wray family to put back into the heart of their farm, allowing them to continue their valuable work with conserving and breeding rare breed livestock.”

The agent said while the family were experienced whisky distillers, it would be at least three years before the product was available to sell.

He said: “The main purpose of the distillery is to create and sell whisky, however as an ancillary element to the open farm, once operational visitors will be able to partake in tasting of the whisky, and purchase their own bottles to take home within a small sales area within the distillery.”

The meeting heard some local residents and the Friends of the Dales had lodged objections, including that the local roads were too narrow to cope with an influx in visitors and congested and that the distillation of whisky was not a local tradition.

Ahead of members approving the scheme Grassington councillor Richard Foster said the scheme should be supported, but concerns over local roads needed addressing. He added: “Grassington has very little for visitors to do during the day apart from walk around. This could be of benefit to Grassington.”