A SIX-YEAR battle to convert a derelict farm into homes has been dealt a major blow.

Former pig farmer Chris England, of Holtby, near York, has been trying to get planning permission to develop Willow Court Farm since 1999 after he gave up farming.

But a planning inspector's report has decided the scheme is inappropriate for the green belt, and would cause harm to it and the character and appearance of the countryside.

The report said derelict farm buildings would have been demolished, with a new access created on to Holtby Lane.

And the inspector rejected claims that there was any need for housing in the area, saying the plan would be "a significant extension of the built-up area beyond the settlement boundary of Holtby".

Mr England's first application to City of York Council was rejected in July 2000, but councillors went against their own officers' advice in February 2003, when they voted to give the plans the thumbs up.

But the scheme faced strong opposition from residents and the local parish council, which felt the development was too large for the area and would increase traffic.

And as the land was situated in the green belt, the scheme was then referred to the Secretary of State for approval - which he has now denied.

Mr England said he and the developers were now reviewing the options to move forward.

He said: "We need to look through the decision.

"I am aware that elsewhere in the country in similar situations, redevelopment of pig farms for housing has been allowed."