28th June 2023
It might be a spoiler alert for fans of Clarkson’s Farm but future series are likely to highlight the return of the Diddly Squad Farm café following a successful planning appeal.
Fans of the show will recall the celebrity-turned-farmer’s battle to diversify his fledgling agricultural business at the end of the second season, battling opposition from local residents and the Local Planning Authority (LPA) West Oxfordshire District Council - which finished on a positive note at the end of the show.
Last year, however, the Council has issued enforcement notices against both the café and the 70-space car park at the farm in the Cotswolds Area of Natural Beauty (AONB), alleging a mixed agricultural and leisure attraction use extending over a larger area of the farm had taken place, a claim refuted by Clarkson’s team with separate appeals lodged against the two notices.
Generally speaking, land across England and Wales will have a designated use which recognises its purpose – for example, residential, commercial, and agriculture amongst others – and that should correspond with the activity taking place on that land. Any intended change of use may require the landowner or developer to go through a change of use process with the LPA – not always a straightforward task, especially if the proposed new use could result in local opposition.
Some changes of use or operational development to a building or land will be covered by permitted development rights – effectively rights to make certain changes to a building or land without the need to apply for planning permission. They derive from a general planning permission granted by Parliament, rather than from permission granted by the local planning authority (LPA). Before some PDRs can be used, the developer must first obtain “prior approval” in relation to specified aspects of the development from the LPA.
In expanding his enterprise on Diddly Squat Farm, Clarkson was accused by the Council to have breached his planning permission for a farm shop with associated parking to a mixed agricultural and leisure attraction use and ordered to cease activities unrelated to the existing permissions and restore the land and existing buildings to their previous states.
In a pair of decisions handed down by the Planning Inspectorate last week, temporary permission has been granted for the café and car park, holding that whilst a change of use had occurred without permission, the farm shop’s status as a popular destination did not correspond with the Council’s claim that it was a leisure attraction that would charge an entry fee.
This was further supported by the Inspector’s view that whilst the proposed car park would have a damaging impact on the on the character and appearance of the AONB, he felt that preventing the expansion of parking facilities on the farm would not reduce the number of vehicles visiting the site, adding that the proposed landscaping to the car park would reduce the levels of harm.
Recognising the lack of clarity around the ongoing success of the farm shop, given its heavy link to the Amazon Prime series whilst acknowledging the benefits from the farm’s ongoing diversification to the local economy, the decision to grant temporary consent for a three-year period would enable these effects to be appropriately considered over time.
The clear and obvious suggestion for any farmers or landowners looking to diversify is to establish what development may be permitted either through permitted development rights or by applying to the LPA for planning permission.
If, however, a change of use occurs without the necessary approval in place they run the risk of a planning authority-led investigation which could result in costly planning enforcement action and potentially even criminal charges. In the event this happens, landowners should seek legal advice at the earliest opportunity.
When opening the café on the show, Clarkson claimed he found a “loophole” that would enable him to open without issue. Whilst there was no clarification in the show around the loophole, the appeal made reference to permitted development rights which outlines criteria to allow certain types of development to happen without having to apply for planning permission.
However, landowners often misunderstand what they are allowed to do under permitted development and accidently breach it as a result and should seek professional and legal advice to ensure their diversification project toes the line.
The Thrings Planning and Environment team has extensive experience in navigating complex local and national planning policy legislation and has successfully supported commercial and residential applications through the approval and appeal processes. To find out more and for advice on your development proposals, including how to address enforcement notices, please do get in touch.