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HWe left the reunion with a good ol ‘breath, thinking it was a bad day for farming and sacking one of the planners as a comedian, after his plans to build a restaurant on top of a hill on his farm in Oxfordshire was categorically rejected.

But Jeremy Clarkson, an oilman turned farmer reality TV star, can be comforted by the concern and interest in his case that has reverberated across the Cotswolds this week.

Other farmers, other food producers and local residents, even some who really dislike the prisoner-less style of Clarkson, argued the case illustrated a mismatch between planners and farmers’ needs. modern people to find imaginative new ways to make a living.

“It’s such a shame,” said Pete Ledbury, who operates a farm with his wife, Emma, ​​at the North Cotswolds Dairy, a few miles from Clarkson’s Diddly Squat farm. “We know we need to diversify to make a living and create more jobs for the countryside. Turning down projects like this doesn’t help. I think this is quite myopic on the part of the planners.

Emma Ledbury explained the pressure on farms like theirs. In recent years, they have lost 40 of their herd of 100 purebred Holstein cattle to bovine tuberculosis, drastically reducing their chances of making a profit. It costs 32 pence to produce a liter of milk, for which supermarket buyers paid them around 28 pence.

Selling milk directly to the customer through a vending machine at the Diddly Squat farm store at a fairer price helped them keep going and they hoped to deliver milk, cream and butter to the restaurant. These hopes seem to have been dashed. “British agriculture is in deep trouble,” she said.

Clarkson argued at a West Oxfordshire District Council planning meeting that his restaurant, which he wanted to open in a converted lamb shed, was the kind of diversification project farmers had to undertake in order to survive. His plan, it was said at the meeting, would create jobs for up to 25 people and give local farmers and other food producers a more lucrative market for their produce than supermarkets. It would also shorten the supply chain and reduce food miles.

Clarkson’s business plan for the restaurant found that government grants made up over 85% of his farm’s profits, but income from the Basic Payment Scheme – the current main system of financial support to agriculture – is expected to drop from £ 83,000 a year to zero by 2028.

The planning subcommittee dismissed the restaurant after hearing complaints that the popularity of TV star’s Amazon Prime show Clarkson’s Farm caused traffic chaos as fans flocked to his store on the farm – and being told by officials that its prominent position in an Area of ​​Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB) meant it had to be turned down.

Max Abbott, who owns the Sourdough Revolution bakery in Lechlade and had hoped to supply the restaurant with bread, was furious.

“There is a huge drive to allow farms to diversify, to attract more people, more money and to bridge the gap between farm and plate,” he said. “Jeremy employs people, makes money. He’s not everyone’s cup of tea, but what the board does sounds absurd.

In the village of Chadlington, just down the hill from the farm, many people are fed up with the disruption caused by the Clarkson store and are firmly opposed to the restaurant.

But many others, like Victoria Steffens, who works in a village store, said it was mainly the new arrivals who were against the restoration project. “The locals, the people who have been here for a long time, realize that companies that create new jobs must be a good thing. Jeremy Clarkson is Marmite but I support him.

District Councilor Merilyn Davies and one of only two committee members to support the restoration project, added, “I never thought I would agree with Jeremy Clarkson. He rubs some people the wrong way, but I think his idea of ​​the local farmers working in a cooperative to supply the restaurant was interesting. We need to give weight to the AONB, but it’s not just about bats and newts. We have to remember that people live here too.

Although many very wealthy people live in the area, Davies said there were pockets of deprivation and people had to move to Oxford, Abingdon or further afield to find work. “Agriculture is an important part of rural Britain. If we want this to be part of our future, we have to be creative.

Like it or hate it, Clarkson’s television adventures in agriculture – and planning – put the microscope on rural issues. Returning to the North Cotswolds Dairy, Pete Ledbury said the show and scheduling app had shown at least one thing: “Food is hard to produce and it pays off. “

theguardian Gt

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