AN astronomer has won the first round of his fight to keep a three-metre high radio telescope at his Horton-in-Ribblesdale home.

John McKay erected the equipment, which resembles a large satellite dish, behind his house on Bransghyll Terrace.

He was then forced to seek retrospective planning permission from the Yorkshire Dales National Park Authority.

Initially it looked as though his hopes of carrying out intensive research into outer space were going to be dashed when officers recommended refusal.

They said in a report to the meeting that the telescope was "alien to the character of the landscape".

"The telescope is considered to harm the amenity of neighbours and not be in keeping with the locality," they added.

However, members said they were minded to approve the plan after hearing that Mr McKay had the backing of neighbours and astronomy experts.

Further reports will now be prepared and the application will go back to a future planning committee meeting for ratification.

In an e-mail to members, Michael Merrifield, professor of astronomy at Nottingham University, said: "Astronomy remains a uniquely attractive balance for an area like the Yorkshire Dales National Park.

"It is a cutting-edge, high-technology science which shows that the area has a vibrant 21st century life, yet at the same time its requirements for peaceful undisturbed skies align it closely with the preservation goals of the national park.

"Indeed, it was the sight of the glorious sky which greeted me when I emerged from Penyghent Pot late at night many years ago that really inspired me to become involved with the entire subject in the first place."

Mr Merrifield added that the Three Peaks telescope was completely in character with the history and future of the national park.

"Its scientific, educational and cultural benefits far outweigh its completely minimal impact on the landscape," he concluded.

Mr McKay also received backing from Professor John Brown, the Astronomer Royal for Scotland.

His letter said: "My understanding is that the telescope is only visible over a limited area and I firmly believe its benefits outweigh any such minor detraction.

"It would be a travesty to kill it off just when it is reaching fruition."

A radio telescope does not provide optical pictures of the universe, but collects information on properties such as the rotational and radial velocities of stars and far-off galaxies. These can then be presented as graphs.

Mr McKay, a retired Merchant Navy radio operator, has had a lifelong interest in astronomy and is studying for a degree in astral physics.

He said the data collected would be open to educational establishments.

He has already had one approach from the head of physics department at St Mary's College, Blackburn, who asked if A-level students could visit when the telescope was completed.

"I'll be delighted to welcome them," said Mr McKay. "It shows there is a clear educational need."