CHEESE makers Judy and Nigel Bell have a £42 million dream – to build an entire idyllic community for old people near their North Yorkshire farm.

Thornton Fields, which would arise on 60 acres of their family land near Thornton le Moor, would accommodate up to 450 elderly residents with a mix of close care apartments, cottages and a residential care home.

Officials at Hambleton District Council are now considering a planning application for a new Continuing Care Retirement Community (CCRC) in that rural setting, complete with tree-lined avenues, little lakes and copses, tennis court, library, hydro pool, coffee shop, hair salon and general store.

The Bell Family, best known locally for their Shepherds Purse Cheese production business, foresee the project echoing the successful Joseph Rowntree Foundation scheme at Hart Rigg Oaks, New Earswick.

Only this venture would be bigger and permanently employ up to 120 people.

“Given planning clearance, we would want to book our own place there,” said Nigel, 62, whose 93 year-old father, Eric Bell, suggested the scheme as a positive option for old people who did not want to leave the countryside, yet sought to avoid the loneliness of isolation.

Nigel said: “This will not be an exclusive gated scheme. Homes will be offered for rent, for sale, for part-rent or part-buy.”

A decision on the planning application, submitted by agents Carter Jonas on behalf of the Bell family and their consortium of partner’s is expected in about three months, but whatever the outcome the Government is likely to call the plans in.

Given a fair passage the plans could ultimately become a reality in 2012 or 2013.

Support for the concept of Thornton Fields is growing with endorsements from a number of local residents, local councillors and the Joseph Rowntree Foundation. Questions were raised over the project at the public exhibitions which were held earlier last year and dealt with in the planning application.

So Judy and Nigel Bell are hopeful, particularly since in January 2007, the Secretary of State approved outline planning permission for a CCRC at Storthes Hall in rural green belt near Huddersfield.

As the Bells see it, the approval demonstrated that the Government regarded rural based care villages of this type and scale as both acceptable and sustainable.

John Goodwin. partner at Carter Jonas, said: “This is an opportunity for Hambleton Council to tackle the shortage of specialist accommodation for the elderly head on. Supporting the Thornton Fields application will provide a sustainable solution to this rural need.”

Nigel said: “The concept of continuing care retirement communities is growing with a number of developments being given approval in other rural locations around the UK.

“Both Judy and I have elderly parents who were determined to live independently and would have certainly benefited from having access to on-site help, which a project like Thornton Fields would have given them.

“Thornton Fields would give others in a similar position the very best of both worlds.”