HHe left the meeting in anger, grumbling that it was a bad day for farming and firing one of the planning officials as a comedian, after his plan to build a hilltop restaurant on his Oxfordshire farm was roundly rejected. .
But Jeremy Clarkson, the oil buff turned farm reality star, may be heartened by the concern and interest in his case that swept the Cotswolds this week.
Fellow farmers, other food producers, and local residents – even some who really don’t like Clarkson’s take-no-prisoners style – argued that the case illustrated a disconnect between planners and modern farmers’ needs to find new and imaginative ways to make a living.
“It’s a real shame,” said Pete Ledbury, who farms with his wife, Emma, at the North Cotswolds Dairy just a few miles from Clarkson’s Diddly Squat Farm. “We know that we have to diversify to earn a living and create more jobs for the countryside. Rejecting projects like this doesn’t help. I think it is quite myopic on the part of the planners ”.
Emma Ledbury explained the pressure farms like hers were under. In recent years, they have lost 40 of their 100 pedigree Holstein herds to bovine tuberculosis, drastically reducing their chances of making a profit. It costs 32 pence to produce a liter of milk, so supermarket buyers have been paying them about 28 pence.
Selling milk directly to the customer through a vending machine at the Diddly Squat farm shop at a fairer price has helped them keep going and they hoped to provide milk, cream and butter to the restaurant. Those hopes seem to have been dashed. “British agriculture is in a mess,” he said.
Clarkson argued at a West Oxfordshire district council planning meeting that his restaurant, which he wanted to open in a converted lambshed, was the kind of diversification project farmers needed to undertake to survive. His plan, it was said at the meeting, 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 the government subsidy represents more than 85% of his farm’s profits, but income from the basic payment plan, the current main financial support system for agriculture, will be reduced from £ 83,000 a year to zero by 2028.
The planning subcommittee rejected the restaurant after hearing complaints that the popularity of the television star’s Amazon Prime show Clarkson’s Farm had caused traffic chaos when fans flocked to his farm shop, and officials informed him. that its prominent position in an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB) meant it should be rejected.
Max Abbott, owner of the bakery. Sourdough Revolution in Lechlade and hoping to supply bread to the restaurant, he was furious.
“There is great momentum to allow farms to diversify, to attract more people, more money and bridge the gap between farm and plate,” he said. “Jeremy is employing people, bringing in money. It is not to everyone’s liking, but what the council is doing seems absurd. “
In the town of Chadlington, just down the hill from the farm, many people are fed up with the disruption Clarkson’s store has caused and are totally against the restaurant.
But many others, like Victoria Steffens, who works in a local grocery store, said it was mainly newcomers who were against the restaurant scheme. “The locals, the people who have been here for a long time, they realize that the companies that provide new jobs have to be a good thing. Jeremy Clarkson is Marmite, but I support him. “
Merilyn Davies, a district councilor and one of only two committee members who supported 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 cooperative to supply the restaurant was interesting. We have to give the AONB weight, but it’s not just about bats and newts. We have to remember that people live here too ”.
While there are many very wealthy people living in the area, Davies said there were pockets of deprivation and people had to go to Oxford, Abingdon or further afield to find work. “Agriculture is an important part of rural Britain. If we want it to be part of our future, we have to be creative ”.
Like it or hate it, Clarkson’s televised agricultural and planning adventures are putting the microscope on rural problems. Back at North Cotswolds Dairy, Pete Ledbury said the program and planning app had shown at least one thing: “Food is hard to produce and it pays for everything.”
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism