INTERNATIONALLY renowned sculptor David Hawkins says he and his company may be forced out of the county after permission to build a studio in the grounds of his trout farm was refused.

Mr Hawkins said he was disappointed but not surprised by the decision by members of Kennet District Council's planning sub-committee who went to see for themselves where the new buildings would be sited at the end of Russell Mill Lane, in Littleton Panell, near Devizes.

He said: "It seems that some people just don't want to see small businesses in the countryside. We will appeal, but the net effect is that we will probably now look for premises outside the county."

Mr Hawkins and his wife Prue are directors of Peter Hicks Associates, a firm of sculptors which specialises in military subjects. Two years ago they undertook a massive project to build a larger-than-life bronze model of a Royal Marine for the Dutch government.

About a year ago, Mr Hawkins took over the trout farm at Littleton Panell under the business name Wishmead Trout. Mr and Mrs Hawkins have been given notice to quit their present studio at Martinslade, Seend, and had applied for planning permission for a new management building from which to run the trout farm, a studio for sculpting, stables, a tack room and sheep pens.

No objections to the scheme were raised by the parish council, but 14 letters of objection were received by Kennet. They raised fears about increased traffic along the lane and the noise and disturbance that might be caused.

Another objector claimed that the proposal could result in the leakage of toxic chemicals into the river during the casting of bronze and silver sculptures.

But councillors meeting at the site on Friday were more concerned about the precedent such a development on an agricultural site would set.

Coun Clyde Hoddinott said: "If this goes through, a lot of other properties will use this as a precedent to have enterprises on their land completely unrelated to agricultural uses."

Coun David Watson said that there was great Government pressure to allow diversification in the countryside and this was a good opportunity to allow it, but Mr Hoddinott replied that the trout farm already counted as diversification.

Sub-committee chairman John Cooke said that, should they grant permission for this scheme, they would have immense difficulty defending appeals against similar ones that got turned down. He suggested if the applicant combined the different buildings into one, it might make a difference the next time.

The councillors voted unanimously to turn the application down.

After the decision, Mr Hawkins said: "We work in precious metals and must have a secure place to keep them. Where we are at the moment is secure and this place would be as well, because it is where we would live. To find another site in the area offering the same kind of security is virtually impossible.

"We shall just have to look further afield, possibly out of the county."