Villagers defending Jeremy Clarkson’s farm shop have called it the “crown jewel” of sustainable living when they asked their local council to allow his expansion plans.
A two-day Planning Inspectorate meeting continued on Wednesday to consider proposals by the 62-year-old former Top Gear presenter to expand the car park on his Oxfordshire farm property to accommodate 70 vehicles.
Charlie Ireland, the land agent who stars in the Amazon Prime series Clarkson’s Farm, also spoke at the hearing to defend the farm.
The plans are opposed by West Oxfordshire District Council (WODC) on the grounds that it would attract more visitors to Diddly Squat Farm – which lies between Chadlington and Chipping Norton – causing traffic problems.
Jeremy’s followers don’t have that much farming knowledge – I had to explain to people that beefburgers come from a cow – and they travel long distances hoping to maybe see him, but also to experience farming they’ve seen on TV have
Diddly Squat caterer Annabel Gray
WODC has also said allowing more vehicles would further disrupt the tranquility of the Cotswolds Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty.
During Tuesday’s meeting, Chadlington’s Hilary Moore described tourists drawn to the farm as “motorheads” who drive slowly on the surrounding roads to “show off their cars”.
On Wednesday, Annabel Gray, 32, who works on a catering trailer at Clarkson’s farm, said the description was “unfair” and that she had “seen local people” contributing to traffic problems by also driving slowly.
She added that 16-year-old workers at the farm were forced to “wear body cameras” as a precaution after being “abused” by villagers.
Ms Gray, who is also a farmer’s daughter, said the farm shop provides “important” education for visitors, some of whom are unaware 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 where you can learn where we source food.
“Jeremy’s followers don’t have that much farming knowledge – I had to explain to people that beef burgers come from a cow – and they travel long distances hoping maybe to see him, but also to experience farming, on which they saw TELEVISION.
“They buy something produced by the local farming community and are impressed by it, and then they seek it out in their local communities.
“This is a huge, huge opportunity for WODC. I beg you that this is something that can be improved rather than turned your back on.”
Diddly Squat Farm could be the crown jewel in the sustainable farming movement
Local butcher and Diddly Squat supplier Henry Lawrence
Local butcher and Diddly Squat purveyor Henry Lawrence, 33, said the shop could be “the crown jewel” of sustainable farming and his business has grown “dramatically” since he started trading it.
Mr Lawrence, owner of Hook Norton Butchers, said: “I would like to see that the right capacity car park is granted, not only for the success of the farm shop but also for the success of local businesses.
“Diddly Squat Farm could become the crown jewel in the local sustainable farming movement.”
Chadlington Parish Council leader Andrew Hutchings, 56, stressed that there were “a range of opinions” about the farm in the village, but most agreed that it “has clearly outgrown what it was built for”. .
He said: “We’ve reached a tipping point between a farm shop and a tourist attraction for people who want to see both the celebrity and the farm.
“The problem comes when you have too many visitors…traffic is a big problem for the whole community.
“If you have a website that is having significant traffic issues and can’t handle the number of visitors, should we add other services and features that allow more people to stay on site longer?
“It is very difficult to see the proposed car park cope with this at peak times.”
WODC has argued that the expansion of the parking lot indicates a change in use of its property, away from shops to “leisure activities,” which would require different planning considerations.
Clarkson’s legal representative, Richard Kimblin KC, denied this, saying the additional parking space reflected increasing demand for the store solely because of its “remarkable success in selling farm goods.”
Counsel for the council said if Clarkson’s store operated solely as a farm shop, visitors would only stay “about five minutes” to purchase their wares, leaving space for up to 70 vehicles “too large”.
We’ve heard about the employment which is great, we’ve heard about the local businesses we’ve been able to support – it’s a really exciting endeavor to be a part of
Previously, it was heard that visitors were staying longer to “take selfies”, meet Clarkson, who also now hosts “Who Wants To Be Millionaire,” and spend a day at the site.
Mr Ireland said tourists spend “more than five minutes” visiting the farm shop as its popularity means they often have to queue to enter.
He added that the farm not only promotes local employment but also contributes to local biodiversity by planting flowers to attract bees.
Mr Ireland added: “We have some new products on the market and it is now a dynamic farming business.
“We’ve heard about the employment, which is great, we’ve heard about the local businesses we’ve been able to support – it’s a really exciting endeavor to be a part of.”
WODC had previously closed a restaurant Clarkson opened last year – allegedly without planning permission – and the TV presenter has subsequently said he no longer wants to reopen it.