VETERAN actor George Cole and his wife have stepped up their fight against their neighbour’s sawmill and wood store.
The couple say they have been made unwell by the worry over the development in Newnham Hill, Stoke Row.
Next-door neighbour James Morris says he needs the barn to store wood from trees that he plans to cut down because they are diseased.
In September South Oxfordshire District Council said the building did not require planning permission.
But now the Coles’ lawyers are challenging the council’s ruling, saying it was “grossly flawed” and “unlawful”.
A spokesman for law firm Withers said: “The council made a gross error in failing to protect our clients’ residential amenity in allowing the sawmill to begin with.
“In so doing it failed to have any regard to the noise implications of the proposal. We are currently seeking to persuade the council to impose a condition to mitigate and control noise to appropriate levels.
“Thus far the council’s officers have refused to accede to this entirely reasonable request. It appears to be making error after error.”
The couple and other neighbours are supported by planning consultant Nick Groves who has lodged an objection with the council.
He said the tracks that have been made so vehicles can access the site did require planning permission as the land is in the Chilterns Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty.
Mr Groves said: “We believe that the sawmill building has substantial visual impact and that a decision should have been made to seek a planning application. That application should have included the access tracks and an assessment of the impact arising from noise from the sawmill and traffic movements on adjoining residential properties and the wider amenity of the AONB.
“The process to date appears to be substantially flawed and there is now the opportunity to retrieve the situation, in part through enforcement action in respect of the access tracks.”
Mr Morris has started to build the open-sided metal barn, which will be about 27m long, 18m wide and 7.4m high.
Mrs Cole told the Henley Standard: “It looks like an escapee from an industrial estate.
“I think the problem is the planning department didn’t perhaps imagine that it would be quite so obtrusive and out of place. It doesn’t nestle in the side of the hill and he has built the plateau it stands on, so it is visible from every angle from the open lane.”
Mrs Cole, who has been married to the 88-year-old Minder star for 49 years, says she has been diagnosed with skin lupus, a stress-related auto immune disease, and her husband has become deeply depressed.
She added: “We are having a bit of a struggle but we are putting our faith in the council and they said they would investigate.”
The couple have written to district council leader Ann Ducker and district councillor Judith Nimmo-Smith, who represents Stoke Row.
In September the Henley Standard reported how the Coles and their neighbours, Stoke Row Parish Council and the Nettlebed Estate had submitted objections to the district council.
But Mr Morris said the sawmill was necessary because the nearest one in Nettlebed could only collect and process 8m lengths of wood and the trees he would be felling would be longer than that.
He said: “I am certain that if I were to have the timber transported to a sawmill for processing and delivered back for storage and drying, this would involve a much higher level of traffic on Newnhamhill Bottom than under the current regime.”
Mr Morris said he would be using a home-made saw powered by a petrol engine of the type found on many lawnmowers. He had already been using it for more than six months without complaints from neighbours.
He said: “I am surprised at people’s attitude to woodland management, especially in an area of such forestation that has many plantations and areas under the management of the Forestry Commission, which actively harvests trees.”
Mr Morris said he had “no intention” of setting up a commercial sawmill and the location for the barn was chosen because it was not visible from the Coles’ house.
A district council spokesman said: “A forestry building has been allowed on the site on the basis that it falls within permitted development rights.
“The council was satisfied that the proposed siting, design and external appearance of the building was acceptable. The permitted building must only be used in relation to forestry operations on the surrounding land and cannot be used in relation to any commercial sawmill operation without planning permission.”
He added: “The council is aware of the concerns locally regarding this development and our enforcement team is monitoring work at the site to ensure it is in compliance with the permitted development.”
Mr Morris did not respond to calls.