In his former life, Jeremy Clarkson admitted he might have been ready to pave the British countryside – but the former oil chief insisted he was a changed man.
As a farmer he was trying to do his part to save the countryside by transforming his newly built lambing shed into a restaurant serving locally produced food at his Diddle Squat farm in the Cotswolds, he told officials of the planning sub-committee in the small town of Witney in Oxfordshire. .
The conversion, along with the 70-space parking lot, was just a “diversification of a farming business,” Clarkson told planning officials. But they didn’t agree.
After pointing out that the prominent restaurant could cause “great damage” to the designated Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, councilors rejected the plan on Monday.
This will probably not be the end of the matter. Outside the council building, Clarkson said it was “a bad day for farming” and vowed to appeal. The changed man jumped into a Range Rover and swept aside one of the board officials, comparing him to comedian Eric Morecambe – “but not so funny”.
Ultimately, win or lose, the saga will, no doubt, be lapped by audiences from his Amazon Prime reality show, Clarkson’s Farm.
The hugely popular show is considered a mixed blessing in the region. He did business, with fans queuing for hours for a chance to buy produce or a souvenir, at his farm shop in the village of Chadlington. But it also caused unwanted eddies in this most picturesque and peaceful landscape, as well as traffic chaos.
Appearing before the West Oxfordshire District Council Upland Planning Subcommittee, the former Top Gear presenter began by thanking the members for accompanying him and said he found the experience ‘unnerving “.
He said planners had made much of the fact that his plan to convert the hangar built in 2020 into a restaurant was in an area of outstanding natural beauty – and agreed that it was.
But he told the committee, “The reason is that the farmers take care of it, the farmers take care of the woods, the hedges, the streams. They keep it looking good. Farmers will not be able to do this for very long because of the precarious state of their finances. We have been told, as farmers, to diversify and that is exactly what this proposal is; it is a diversification of an agricultural enterprise.
Clarkson said his farm will provide beef for the restaurant while others in the area will provide other locally produced foods. He said the local farmers were thrilled and was recently tearfully told by one of them that she would have gone out of business had it not been for the boost her farm shop had provided.
The TV star noted spelling errors in the city officer’s report before admitting:. “
Clarkson was asked why he had stopped trying to use the lambing shed for sheep. He replied that he had “put a toe” in the water and found that raising sheep was not viable. He merged his herd with that of a neighbor.
There was some support for his cause. One advisor, Alex Postan, pointed out that a nearby trailer park was already a “stain on the landscape”, so another might not do so much harm. He recognized that farmers needed all the help they could get, otherwise the world was headed for food and water wars.
Neighborhood Councilor Dean Temple said area residents previously had two job choices: farm laborer or service worker, “at Downton Abbey”. But most of those jobs were gone and anything that helped employment had to be welcomed. But he said he had to vote against the plan with a “heavy heart” because of the impact on a beautiful region.
There were 56 letters of opposition and 13 of support. Addressing the meeting on behalf of a resident, lawyer Charles Streeten said the lambing shed had been a “Trojan horse” for the restaurant. He said Clarkson had “a general disregard” for the rules of planning and claimed his conduct was “shameful,” adding: “It indicates a ‘give me a thumbs up and I’ll go a mile’ attitude.”