Villagers living nearby Jeremy Clarkson’s farm shop have pleaded with the local council to allow his expansion plans, calling it the “crown jewel” of sustainable farming.
Proposals have been put forward by the 62-year-old former Top Gear presenter to extend the car park on his Oxfordshire farm plot to accommodate 70 vehicles.
The plans are opposed by West Oxfordshire District Council (WODC) on the grounds that it would encourage more visitors to the farm which sits between Chadlington and Chipping Norton – adding to traffic problems and further disturbing the tranquillity of the Cotswolds Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty.
WODC argued that the car park expansion at Diddly Squat farm indicates a change in the use of Clarkson’s land from being for the shop, to being for “leisure activities”, which would require different planning considerations.
Clarkson’s legal representative Richard Kimblin KC contested this claim, saying the extra parking space reflects increasing demand for the shop alone due to its “remarkable success in selling farm goods”.
The council’s lawyer said that if Clarkson’s business was operating as a farm shop only, visitors would stay only for “around five minutes” to buy their goods, so a space for up to 70 vehicles is “too big”.
It was previously heard that visitors stay longer to “take selfies”, meet Clarkson and have a day out at the site.
A two-day Planning Inspectorate meeting continued on Wednesday (15 March) where Charlie Ireland, the land agent who features on the Amazon Prime series Clarkson’s Farm, spoke to defend the farm.
Mr Ireland said tourists spend “longer than five minutes” visiting the farm shop because, due to its popularity, they often have to queue for entry.
He said: “We have got some new products coming and it is a vibrant farming business now. We have heard about the employment, which is great, we have heard about the local businesses we have been able to support – it’s a really exciting venture to be part of.”
During the meeting, Chadlington resident Hilary Moore described tourists attracted to the farm as “motorheads” who drive slowly on surrounding roads to “show off their cars”.
Annabel Gray, 32, who works on a catering trailer at Clarkson’s farm, said this description was “unfair” and she had “witnessed local people” adding to traffic issues by driving slowly too.
Ms Gray, who is also a farmer’s daughter, added that 16-year-old workers on the farm have had to “wear body cameras” as a precaution following “abuse” directed at them by villagers.
‘Few places where you can experience where we get food from’
Ms Gray said the farm shop provides an “important” education for visitors, some of whom do not realise that “beefburgers come from a cow”.
She told the hearing: “Diddly Squat has an important opportunity to educate people about local farming and I find it really frustrating that the council is overlooking that. There are few places about where you can experience where we get food from.
“Jeremy’s following do not have that great a knowledge about farming. I have had to explain to people that beef burgers come from a cow, and they travel long distances with the hope they might see him, but also to experience farming they have seen on TV. This is a massive, massive opportunity for WODC. I am begging you that this is something that can be improved on rather than turn your back on.”
Local butcher and Diddly Squat supplier Henry Lawrence, 33, said he would like to see the car park built “granted of the correct capacity” for the “success of the farm shop” and the “success of local businesses too.”
He added: “Diddly Squat farm could be the crown jewel in the local sustainable farming movement.”
‘We have reached a tipping point’
Chadlington Parish Council chairman Andrew Hutchings, 56, said that there was “a range of opinions” on the farm in the village but it had “clearly outgrown what it was built for”.
He said: “We have reached a tipping point between a farm shop and a tourist type attraction for people who want to see the celebrity as well as the farm. The problem comes when you have too many visitors … the traffic is a major issue to the community at large.
“When you have a site which has significant traffic problems and cannot deal with the number of visitors, should we be adding more services and features that enable more people to spend longer on the premises? It’s very hard to see the proposed car park dealing with that at peak times.”
WODC previously shut down a restaurant which Clarkson had opened last year allegedly without planning permission. The TV presenter subsequently said he no longer wishes to reopen it.