Cameron's father-in-law fails to kill plan to build abbatoir

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The Independent Online

With its mellow brick Georgian facade, Rococo plasterwork and priceless collection of furniture, the home of Sir Reginald Sheffield has everything befitting the country pile of a family that can date its lineage back to the Crusades. The Grade I-listed building can even boast the occasional visit from Sir Reginald's rather well-connected son-in-law, fellow Old Etonian David Cameron, husband of the 8th baronet's daughter Samantha.

Plans to build an abattoir just half a mile downwind of the Sheffield family seat in the North Yorkshire village of Sutton-on-the-Forest, stirred the Prime Minister's father-in-law into battle, complaining about the potential smell and noise from the proposed slaughterhouse.

The scheme to convert the former pig-rearing unit enjoyed the backing of local farmers and the Association of Independent Meat Suppliers (Aims), which has campaigned against the closure of small abattoirs, insisting they reduce the distance travelled by animals to slaughter, thereby reducing their distress and helping promote local family butchers. A petition backing the plan had 77 signatures.

But a letter by Sir Reginald and his wife, who also own 3,000 acres in Lincolnshire, claims the application by businessman Chris Hodgson would disrupt the idyllic splendour of the house and gardens eight miles outside York and a popular location for weddings and corporate events.

"The noise and smells emanating from the slaughterhouse, which would have a damaging effect on the grounds of Sutton Park, which is open to the public," he wrote. "Sutton Park has carefully built up its business over the past 40 years and we consider all the work to make it an important North Yorkshire tourist attraction will all be undone if this development goes ahead." But a two-hour meeting of the planning committee of the Hambleton District Council yesterday rejected Sir Reginald's objection and granted the proposals, which were backed by officers.

Aims policy director Norman Bagley had written to the council pointing out that many such abattoirs were run throughout the country "without causing problems to their neighbours".

Sir Reginald, who claimed the development would be within 50 yards of his farm, declined to comment on the decision saying he had just come out of hospital. His in-law's opposition to the facility is another potential embarrassment for the Prime Minister who has championed the cause of localism, not least because the plan will create eight jobs at a time when rural employment prospects are bleak.

In 2007, Sir Reginald was questioned by police after a heated confrontation with a neighbour over a boundary dispute at his other home at Thealby Hall, near Scunthorpe in Lincolnshire. The ensuing newspaper coverage portrayed the 65-year-old as a typical old-time Tory hunting-and-shooting blueblood at a time when Mr Cameron was working hard to distance himself from the party's traditional image.

Last year, Sir Reginald was accused of being among wealthy landowners cashing in on £3.5m of green energy subsidies to build a wind-farm.

Samantha Cameron is the eldest of two daughters from his first marriage to Annabel Jones who later married Lord Astor, a former minister in John Major's government. The Prime Minister's wife grew up in Normanby Hall on her father's Lincolnshire estate.

Sir Reginald lives with his wife Victoria at Sutton Park which has been his home since 1963. Among its many fine attributes is a collection of furniture acquired by John Sheffield, the 1st Duke of Buckingham whose London home was later renamed Buckingham Palace when it was sold to George III.