A care farm used by children with special needs has been allowed to continue running on green belt land.

SweetTree Fields Farm, in Marsh Lane, Mill Hill, will reopen after being granted retrospective planning permission at the third attempt.

The farm, which first opened in 2013, allowed people with learning disabilities and mental health issues to look after animals such as sheep, donkeys and goats.

But it was shut down in July this year – because while owner Barry Sweetbaum had a licence to use the land for agriculture, he did not have planning permission to use it as a care farm.

Councillors turned down two previous planning applications, ruling the farm was an ‘over-intensification’ of the green belt.

But a new application was given the nod by Barnet Council’s planning committee on Monday (November 4) after the plans were changed to lessen the impact of the farm on neighbours and the environment.

The revisions include removing some structures, cutting the farm’s opening hours and only allowing a maximum number of 45 people on the site.

Barnet Council received 79 objections to the plans and 190 letters of support.

At the meeting, Totteridge resident Dianne Murphy spoke against the plans on behalf of the North-West London RSPB, London Wildlife Trust Barnet, Mill Hill Preservation Society and neighbours.

She said: “This is inappropriate development in the green belt. The former agricultural use operated sustainably without any buildings, roads or car parking facilities.

“The number of animals required is highly intensive and harmful to the priority wildlife habitat on this site, designated by the council as a site of importance for nature conservation.”

But one dad of three disabled children, Barnet resident David Corker, said shutting down the farm had been “devastating”.

Mr Corker said: “My son Robby is now a withdrawn person. Since September, he has had regular screaming fits lasting over 15 minutes – he is a completely changed person.

“The loss of his farm, beloved animals and committed staff, has opened for him a deep wound. Travel on public transport has become a challenge and life at home has become fraught.

“All of us will one day have special needs. When that day comes for us, we will want this borough to be a leader in supporting high-quality provision for us all.”

Opponents of the farm say there are similar facilities that can be used in Hertfordshire and other nearby areas – but Mr Corker said they were not easily accessible.

Owner Barry Sweetbaum added: “This project has been part of my life for over a decade. My first discussions with Barnet planners took place in 2010, and the planning team has been involved in the project since then.

“In 2013, we received agreement from our planning officer to install a farm track. In 2015, a planning officer noted in his view, the use of the site for care farming would be considered lawful as it represents no material change of use.

“The running of the farm is undertaken by a not-for-profit [organisation]. There is absolutely no financial benefit for me whatsoever.

“The only difference between what exists today and what we are seeking, is to use an agricultural site for social gain and benefit.”

The plans were approved after a majority of councillors voted to support the application.