TV presenter Jeremy Clarkson's Diddly Squat farm in Oxfordshire continues to provide insights into how the planning system approaches rural diversification.

Diversification at Diddly Squat

Viewers of the TV series are familiar with the various diversification activities at Diddly Squat. Those include the farm shop and the adjacent lambing shed. The most recent programmes featured the conversion of the Lowland Barn to restaurant use.

Recent planning appeals focused on the planning status of these buildings. There's lots of interesting points for planners (do read the decision letter, as this blog cannot do it justice). Jeremy, on the other hand, will probably be frustrated at the complexities/ nuances.

Will this be presented as a partial victory for Clarkson, or a draw with the local council? We'll have to wait for the next series.

My previous blog commented on what Clarkson's Farm tells us about the planning system. What do the recent appeals show?

Planning balance

The appeal decision letter shows how the planning system weighs up all the factors. The inspector acknowledged the harm to the Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, but also the positive benefits. He decided to grant planning permission for the café and additional car parking, but on a time-limited basis:

"I also recognise there remains a lack of clarity over how long the ‘successes’ of the farm shop will continue and whether the car park would be required in the long term. That is dependent on several factors including the popularity and longevity of the television series."

Planning unit

The conversion of the Lowland Barn to restaurant use was supposedly on the basis of permitted development rights (PDR), which exempt development from the requirement to apply for planning permission.

That led to a detailed discussion in the planning appeals about the relevant planning unit. Neither the Planning Acts or Regulations mention the concept of the planning unit: it is a principle deriving from caselaw.

For Clarkson, it was argued that the Lowland Barn is a separate planning unit, as it is physically separate and not part of the farm shop lease.

The inspector did not agree. He concluded that access and land between the Lowland Barn and the farm shop are not physically and functionally separate. The barn was therefore part of an area in mixed use, so there were no permitted development rights for the restaurant use. The inspector refused to grant planning permission for it.

Wider lessons

The popularity of Diddly Squat is a unique situation/ problem, driven by the TV series. There was even a debate during the appeal about whether it had become a tourist destination and should be classed as a leisure use. However, the inspector felt that a leisure attraction normally involved payment of an entrance fee (maybe an idea for Clarkson to explore?).

This latest chapter in the planning history shows the complexities of interpreting permitted development rights.


Neil Collar