12th April 2023
Following a long-running planning dispute, Jeremy Clarkson was told to shut down his farm restaurant. Here are some reasons why this attempt at diversification fell short.
The nation’s farmers are facing financial difficulties and are being encouraged to diversify as a way to maximise their income.
Jeremy Clarkson’s restaurant at the Diddly Squat Farm is an example of this diversification – but one which serves as a cautionary tale for farmers.
In 2021, Clarkson submitted a proposal to convert an existing building on the farm into a restaurant, which was rejected. He then claimed a “loophole” in the law meant he could open his new restaurant in a lambing shed that he said “met different criteria” and therefore wouldn’t require planning permission.
However, after being open for a little over a month, the restaurant was forced to close. Clarkson has since lodged an appeal against West Oxfordshire District Council, challenging the enforcement notice it served for opening a restaurant without planning.
So, what went wrong? While councils are generally supportive of farm diversification projects, there were a number of stumbling blocks in Clarkson’s way. Here are some of the challenges Clarkson faced and why the initial planning permission was rejected.
One of the most obvious challenges Clarkson came up against was the farm being in an AONB (Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty) which makes it a heavily protected landscape. The development could have a harmful impact on the character of the area, and some of the locals felt it would be an eyesore in what’s known to be a beautiful part of the country.
Clarkson is a celebrity, and following the Clarkson’s Farm TV show, so is his farm. The shop has become a major tourist attraction, bringing in large numbers of visitors. The scale of its success has both boosted a number of local businesses, but driven the usual complaints surrounding farm diversification projects, such as traffic, parking and environmental harm.
Clarkson is known to be outspoken against bureaucracy – a reputation which possibly didn’t do him any favours on this occasion. All the issues above could have contributed to the refusal of planning permission in 2021.
Run-ins with the local council
In episode five of Clarkson’s Farm, Clarkson storms out of a planning application meeting after permission to open the restaurant was refused. This was on the basis that the restaurant would not be sustainable or compatible with the existing farming business and because it is in the Cotswolds AONB, the development would have a harmful impact on the environment.
To add fuel to the fire, Clarkson previously had a number of run-ins with the council’s enforcement team and breaches included selling goods in the farm shop that came from more than 16 miles away and the roof of the shop being made from a non-compliant material.
It was also confirmed that the lambing shed was being used as a café/bar area without planning permission before the application was made.
The application was controversial locally, dividing opinion among residents, so much so that the Parish Council couldn’t decide whether to support or oppose it.
Those supporting the application tended to focus on the local economic benefits of the project and those objecting to it, on traffic, parking and the concerns about the visual impacts of the scheme on the AONB.
As mentioned above, Clarkson claimed he found a “loophole” that would enable him to open his Diddly Squat restaurant. Although he never clarified which loophole he was referring to, his recent appeal lodged with the council mentioned permitted development rights.
This allows certain types of development to happen without having to apply for planning permission, if certain criteria are met, such as the change of use of agricultural buildings to a flexible commercial use.
However, landowners often misunderstand what they are allowed to do under permitted development and accidently breach it as a result.
Class R of the Town and Country Planning (General Permitted Development) (England) Order 2015 (as amended) enables a change of use of an agricultural building to a "flexible commercial use" as a restaurant. If Clarkson opened his restaurant under Class R, he would have needed to comply with certain restrictions depending on the size of the floor space changing use, if it does not exceed 150 square metres then it is only necessary to notify the Council of the date and nature of the proposed change of use along with an indictive plan. On the other hand, if the floor space exceeds 150 square metres but is less than 500 square metres then there is a prior approval procedure that needs to be followed. In any event, for the permitted development to apply the building in question must have been in agricultural use on 3 July 2012.
Clarkson’s lambing shed in a nearby field seated seven tables of four outside and charged £49 a head for a menu of beef sharing dishes – so was it in breach of planning laws?
In the enforcement notice, the council said the restaurant was an “unlawful use of Diddly Squat Farm” and that it is “unsuitable and incompatible with its open countryside location”.
We’ll have to wait to see the outcome of the appeal, but this is an important reminder to farmers to carefully check there are no restrictions in place before going ahead with a diversification project and consult legal and planning advice.
The Thrings Agriculture team has been chosen by the NFU to act for its members in more counties than any other firm. Find out more about how we can support farmers, food producers and rural communities on our Information for Farmers page.