How the ‘Jeremy Clarkson effect’ is hitting rural Britain

·3-min read
Jeremy Clarkson outside his Diddly Squat farm shop in Chipping Norton, Oxfordshire
Jeremy Clarkson outside his Diddly Squat farm shop in Chipping Norton, Oxfordshire

The “Jeremy Clarkson effect” is hitting rural Britain, with three-quarters of farmers saying they have abandoned plans to develop their businesses because of planning disputes.

The Top Gear presenter has publicly criticised his local council, which was accused by fans of “pen pushing” after it rejected his plans 

for a restaurant on Diddly Squat Farm, which features in his Amazon show Clarkson’s Farm.

New research from the Country Land and Business Association (CLA) has found that a majority of farmers have faced similar problems, with 93 per cent agreeing with Clarkson’s argument that the planning system is stifling economic growth in the countryside.

More than a third of farmers say they had already spent more than £20,000 on projects to develop their land before being forced to abandon them by planning issues. Almost 20 per cent said they had spent £50,000 or more.

Clarkson’s planning battle with West Oxfordshire District Council over the restaurant has been widely publicised, with an online petition to “save Diddly Squat Farm from planning injustice” attracting 170,000 signatures.

Diddly Squat Farm’s restaurant - Adrian Sherratt/Times Newspapers Ltd
Diddly Squat Farm’s restaurant - Adrian Sherratt/Times Newspapers Ltd

The council has accused the programme of a “misleading” portrayal of a meeting at which councillors overwhelmingly voted to reject the development.

The CLA says the problem is rife in the countryside, with problems concentrated in national parks and areas of outstanding natural beauty.

Seventy per cent of farmers responding to the organisation’s survey who live in protected areas say they have farm buildings they hope to convert.

Will Mathias, 36, runs a plant nursery based near Farnham in the Surrey Hills area of outstanding natural beauty. His application to build a house and farm office on his land was rejected by Waverley Borough Council amid concerns that it would “detrimentally affect the openness of the green belt”.

Mr Mathias told The Telegraph he would “never vote Conservative again in local elections” after the judgment, which he is appealing against.

The council is run by a coalition of parties led by the Liberal Democrats, but the Conservatives are the largest group.

Will Mathias - Geoff Pugh for The Telegraph/ Geoff Pugh for The Telegraph
Will Mathias - Geoff Pugh for The Telegraph/ Geoff Pugh for The Telegraph

“It was just purely a local politics issue of counsellors sitting in a meeting, they get all the papers dumped in front of them, and they make almost a split second decision there and then and they have a debate about it,” he said.

“Not a single one of them had seen the site or knew the situation or indeed knew anything about our business. They basically decided on the day that they weren’t going to allow it because they don’t like to see any development happening in the area of outstanding natural beauty and green belt.

“We live in the very, very affluent village Tilford and it's essentially full of bankers, stockbrokers, city workers, who earn lots of money. They don't want to see people out working in the fields and machinery operating and that sort of thing.”

Mr Mathias estimates that his appeal will take 18 months and cost £20,000, but  is confident the new building will eventually be allowed.

The CLA has called for a comprehensive review of planning policy in the green belt to increase the development of rural businesses.

Mark Tufnell, the organisation’s president, said: “We can’t continue treating the countryside as a museum, like it’s something to be looked at not touched, because it’s a home to communities and businesses that need to grow after decades of economic neglect.

“What we need is a new system that supports sensible, small-scale developments. It doesn’t matter if you’re Jeremy Clarkson or from a farming family – all deserve a lifeline and a genuine chance to thrive.”