The inside scoop on covering the Diddly Squat meeting
This month I’ve spent much of my time live blogging in a stuffy meeting room in West Oxfordshire District Council’s offices in Witney.
If you’ve been checking the Oxford Mail website over the last few weeks, it would have been hard to scroll down the site without coming across a Jeremy Clarkson article.
It is a hot topic which is generating global interest after all so we are hardly going to ignore it!
Unfortunately, the star of the show, Mr Clarkson, was not present at the recent meeting.
But what was most interesting was listening to the contributions from concerned Chadlington residents and business owners from nearby Diddly Squat Farm.
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The security presence for the hearing, on both days, was very excessive and it felt odd that journalists were not allowed to take photographs or film.
The restrictions were imposed by the planning inspector in response to death threats which had been made towards councillors, after they appeared in the latest season of Clarkson’s Farm.
The debates at the start of the hearing on the first day were very dull and legally technical.
A lot of the arguments between both sides evolved around the difference between a farm shop and a farm/gift shop.
Yes, I know, I’m sure you’re glad you didn’t bother going to the ‘spectacle’.
The most interesting interjections came from Ms Hilary Moore and Ms Annabel Gray.
Ms Moore was previously invited to Mr Clarkson’s restaurant, which the council forced to close down with an enforcement notice.
The food can’t have been good enough to charm Ms Moore, as she hit out at Mr Clarkson for not providing adequate toilet facilities.
Remarkably, the ‘toilet attack line’ became the choice of discussion for the majority of the first day.
Charles Streeten, the lawyer representing concerned residents, chose to highlight how visitors were being taken back and forth between the restaurant and the farm shop by quad bike because there were no toilets at the restaurant.
In one of the hearing’s breaks, I asked Mr Clarkson’s lawyer Mr Kimblin if he had come to hearing by quad bike. He chuckled.
Mr Charles Ireland, known as ‘Cheerful Charlie’, wasn’t so cheerful in person.
Although, that interpretation is heavily influenced by his unwillingness to speak to the Oxford Mail.
On both days, Mr Ireland spoke very little but did make insightful comments about how the farm was operating.
He emphasised that from a financial perspective the farm relied heavily on the farm shop to sell their fresh produce.
Mr Ireland drew on the falling government subsidies for farmers in the UK and the importance of diversification which was becoming increasingly harder alongside making a profit.
Numerous times in the hearing the planning inspector Richard Perrins ticked off the senior planning officer Charles Wood for making specific references to scenes in season two of Clarkson’s Farm. This was to the amusement of those watching on.
Ms Annabel Gray made a very strong interjection in favour of Mr Clarkson opening a new car park.
She is the owner of one of the catering trailers on site, and she highlighted the role of the farm in educating visitors about where their food comes from.
Worryingly, she said on many occasions she had to tell customers burgers came from cows.
Maybe this could explain why the traffic problem outside the farm is so bad, as opposed to a lack of parking.
Ms Gray also revealed Diddly Squat Farm shop staff were forced to wear body cameras because of the “abuse” they were receiving from locals.
Mr Clarkson tweeted recently that coverage of the hearing made it sound like a “civil war”.
Inside the hearing, at times it did feel like a ‘civil war’ between the council and those supportive of the farm shop.
The high security presence and the emotion with which those contributing spoke with, suggested this was far from any ordinary planning appeals hearing.