A FARMER fighting to be allowed to stay in his home was given a glimmer of hope this week.

Mr Len Webster of Chestnut Farm, near Stokesley, is involved in a long-running dispute with Hambleton District Council which claims he makes more money from his bed and breakfast business at his farmhouse than he does from farming.

The council granted planning permission for Mr Webster to build the house on condition that his main income came from agriculture. He started taking in guests after the farm made a loss in 1995.

Mr Webster applied to have the condition lifted last year but was turned down on the grounds that he had not tried other means of diversification to make the farm a going concern.

Hambleton then threatened to prosecute him for breaching his occupancy agreement. Mr Webster responded by saying that forcing him to make a loss in agriculture would be tantamount to economic slavery and a breach of the European Bill of Human Rights.

But council planning officers this week agreed to look at a fresh application for the occupancy agreement to be lifted. Reports from both their own agricultural consultants and a firm employed by Mr Webster say the farm is not economically viable and that there is no reason for the occupancy agreement to remain in place.

Mr Webster said his consultants compiled a 16-page booklet examining a range of options. "We looked at intensive livestock units such as calf rearing, hens, pigs, ducks, geese and goats. You name it, we looked at it," said Mr Webster.

Mr Maurice Cann, head of development control at Hambleton, confirmed the council had received the application. He said: "We will look at it afresh and make a judgement based on what is in front of us. We will not prejudge it on previous information."