An internationally acclaimed sculptor who has worked for the monarchy has been allowed to keep two shepherds huts on his land in West Devon for holiday use as long as students live in them, writes Alison Stephenson.

Councillors said The Sculpture School at Bondleigh was “a cultural gem” and they should be protecting the business which needed extra income to survive.

Andrew Sinclair, who crafted the David Bowie Statue in Aylesbury, the Duke of Wellington’s Regiment Memorial Sculpture in Halifax and a trio of female divers on the Icon of the Seas, the world’s largest cruise ship, was given permission in 2016 to set up the school in the rural location called Moorview Farm.

The two huts, plus the conversion of attic space above the school, had already been completed without planning permission, and the applicant was seeking retrospective consent for that plus solar panels.

Planning officers advised West Devon Borough Council’s development management and licensing committee to refuse the application on the grounds that it was not sustainable in the countryside and it would result in car journeys to nearby shops and services. A similar application submitted by Mr Sinclair last year was refused by the committee.

But planners heard students taking art courses mainly stayed at The Sculpture School from a week to a year. The accommodation is not suitable for families.

Meals are available in the school and buses pass it six times a day.

Speaking for the applicant, Steven Sherry said this creates modest but necessary income for the business which employs eight people.

“Like many rural businesses in Devon and Cornwall, this is not just about making a good living but it’s about survival,” he said. “Andrew Sinclair’s has done commissions for the late Queen, his work goes all over the world. To have this on your patch, you should be proud and encouraging for what they do.”

Chair of Bondleigh Parish meeting John Warre said St Ives had artist and sculptor Barbara Hepworth and Bondleigh had Andrew Sinclair.

He called the sculptor “awe inspiring” and a great educator, historian and supporter of the military and monarchy, and he had respect from both.

“When you stand in front of the statue of Duke of Wellington statue, you see the work of a phenomenal sculptor who has managed to capture the real humanity of that person, it’s quite outstanding the quality of his work.”

Cllrs Louise Watts (Con, Exbourne) and Mike Casbolt (Con, Exbourne) said what could be more quintessential in the English countryside than these shepherd huts, which the committee heard had been built to a very high standard.

“By not approving this we could be undoing all the years of great work and international recognition. It would not only put in doubt the school but the future of fantastic students.”

Councillors were reminded that they were looking at the planning application, not the work of The Sculpture School.

But Cllr Ursula Mann (Ind, Tavistock North) said the cultural elements should be considered under relevant planning policies.

Cllr Caroline Mott (Con, Bridestowe) suggested the planning authority put conditions on the holiday accommodation that it could only be occupied by students and this was agreed.

Cllr Neil Jory (Con, Milton Ford) said he could see the benefits of students staying in such a beautiful location.

“It’s an important business in local economy, if we can find a way to support it we should,” he said.