‘It’s short-sighted’: Farmers bemoan restaurant veto Jeremy Clarkson | Jeremy Clarkson
HWe left the meeting in a huff, thinking it was a bad day for agriculture and firing one of the planners as a comedian, after his plans to build a restaurant on top of a hill on his farm in Oxfordshire was categorically refused.
But petrolhead turned farming reality TV star Jeremy Clarkson can be heartened by the concern and interest in his case that has rocked the Cotswolds this week.
Other farmers, other food producers and local residents, even some who really dislike Clarkson’s no-prisoner style, argued that the case illustrated a disconnect between planners and the needs of modern farmers. to find new and imaginative ways to make a living.
“It’s such a shame,” Pete Ledbury, who farms with his wife, Emma, told the North Cotswold Dairy Products a few miles from Clarkson’s Farm Diddly Squat. “We know we need to diversify to earn a living and create more rural jobs. Turning down projects like this doesn’t help. I think that’s pretty myopic on the part of the planners.
Emma Ledbury explained the pressure farms like theirs are under. In recent years, they have lost 40 of their herd of 100 purebred Holstein cattle to bovine tuberculosis, dramatically reducing their chances of making a profit. It costs 32p to produce a liter of milk, for which supermarket buyers have paid them around 28p.
Selling milk directly to the customer through a vending machine at the Diddly Squat farm shop at a fairer price helped them keep going and they hoped to supply milk, cream and butter to the restaurant. These hopes seem to have been dashed. “British agriculture is in deep trouble,” she said.
Clarkson argued at a West Oxfordshire District Council planning meeting that his restaurant, which he wanted to open in a converted lambing shed, was the type of diversification project farmers needed to undertake to survive. His plan, the meeting was told, would create jobs for up to 25 people and give local farmers and other food producers a more lucrative market for their produce than supermarkets. It would also shorten the supply chain and reduce food miles.
Clarkson’s business plan for the restaurant revealed that government grants account for more than 85% of his farm’s profits, but income from the Basic Payment Scheme – today’s main financial support system for farming – must go from £83,000 a year to zero by 2028.
The planning subcommittee rejected the restaurant after hearing complaints that the popularity of the TV star’s Amazon Prime show Clarkson’s Farm had caused traffic chaos as fans flocked to his store farm – and being told by officials that its prominent position in an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB) meant it had to be turned down.
Max Abbott, bakery owner sourdough revolution in Lechlade and hoped to supply bread to the restaurant, was furious.
“There’s a huge drive to allow farms to diversify, to attract more people, more money and to reduce the gap between farm and plate,” he said. “Jeremy employs people, makes money. It’s not everyone’s cup of tea, but what the council is doing seems absurd.
In the village of Chadlington, just down the hill from the farm, there are many people who are fed up with the disruption caused by Clarkson’s shop and are strongly opposed to the restaurant.
But many others, like Victoria Steffens, who works in a shop in the village, said it was mainly new arrivals who were against the restoration scheme. “Locals, people who have been here a long time, realize that businesses that create new jobs must be a good thing. Jeremy Clarkson is Marmite but I support him.
Merilyn Davies, District Councilor and one of only two committee members to back the restaurant plan, added: “I never thought I would agree with Jeremy Clarkson. He rubs some people the wrong way, but I think his idea of local farmers working as a co-op to supply the restaurant was interesting. We need to give weight to the AONB, but it’s not just about bats and newts. We have to remember that people live here too.
Although there are many very wealthy people living in the area, Davies said there were pockets of deprivation and people had to leave for Oxford, Abingdon or further afield to find work. “Farming is an important part of rural Britain. If we want this to be part of our future, we have to be creative.
Love it or hate it, Clarkson’s farming — and planning — television adventures put rural issues under the microscope. Back at the North Cotswolds Dairy, Pete Ledbury said the show and planning app showed at least one thing: “Food is hard to produce and it pays off.”