A COUPLE say they have lost their life savings after planners refused to let them rebuild a barn they demolished.
Maureen Ingram and her partner Andrew Taff are £230,000 in debt after raising money from their pensions, life savings and remortgaging - for a building which no longer exists.
The couple bought Glebe Barn with planning permission in 2010 and started converting it the following year.
When the works started, the barn, in Grub Street, High Offley, was found to be in poor condition with decaying roof timbers and there were two large cracks in the walls.
The roof was removed without any scaffolding and the building became unstable so it was demolished, contravening the planning permission.
Work on a replacement began but that was razed to the ground following enforcement action.
An appeal against the enforcement notice was dismissed following a public inquiry in February.
Agent Janet Hodson told a meeting of Stafford Borough Council's planning committee who were considering the couple's application to build a replacement: "My clients have effectively lost their life savings, more than £230,000 on the purchase of this barn and works that have taken place and this is extreme hardship to them.
"They are now repaying the money and there's no building on that site. Mrs Ingram doesn't have any income at all and her partner has limited income of about £9,000 a year.
"They borrowed money from their pension fund, remortgaged and used their life savings. This is a hardship to any working person of normal means."
She said the couple had been badly advised and asked the committee to permit the application.
Ward councillor Mike Smith said: "The point that seems to have been missed is that these people have lost £230,000,a sizeable proportion of which is borrowed.
"They can't afford anything," he said. "The building will look like the original on exactly the same spot as the original. If we don't permit we will leave the mess you currently see.
A very expensive lesson has been learned."
His ward colleague Councillor Ken Williamson said: "Hardship is clearly demonstrated.
"The loss of £230,000, having to live in a temporary mobile home and making repayments on a loan for a building that they no longer use is severe hardship.
"There will be no harm to the countryside in building what is a replacement or replica of the approved barn. The public will see no difference to the original.
"The council has shown no evidence the application will harm the countryside. In fact it will enhance it.”
Councillor Barry Stamp said he had sympathy with the couple but added: "This is extremely difficult and extremely dangerous and I don't think there's enough proof of hardship to go against our policy."
Councillor Geoff Collier said: "I feel sorry for them but I'm afraid we have rules about barn conversions.
"This wouldn't be a barn conversion any more if a new building was permitted.
"They should have looked after this building," he said. "They should have gone by the rules to start with. Their chance is all over, that conversion can't happen any more.
"They have missed their chance and that's the end of it."
After the meeting Ms Ingram was too distressed to comment.