Let me deal with the Diddly Squat Farm restaurant planning debacle as seen on Amazon TV.
Having reviewed the documents submitted to support the planning application, I could not find a statement of community involvement. No surprise. Some planning consultants seem to think the planning statement is enough, or maybe Jermey Clarkson overruled his planners to save money. But what we record in the statement of community involvement or ‘SCI’ is key: it’s the work that should give councillors and officers the comfort that the community has been engaged. It demonstrates that any objections are either few in number or have been addressed by our clients. In this case it would have shown that supporters have had their say – and not just those who visited the farm shop, but those who live in the village and wanted the car park improvements, or who genuinely liked what was planned!
The only evidence of community engagement on the TV show was the meeting with Clarkson at the village hall. He did just what we would have advised, and was rewarded with a warmer reception at the end than from where he started. But… if this was all the community and political engagement that took place, then he was either ill advised or naive to think such a plan could be done without engagement.
There was a limited number of supportive letters. Despite the genuine benefits for other local farmers, none were encouraged to support the applications and challenge the naysayers. And while Clarkson gave a suitable speech to the Planning Committee there was clearly no Members briefing provided, promoting the planning benefits and challenging the officers recommendation. The reality, the concept and ideas behind the application are better shared with Amazon viewers rather than the councillors and officers.
After the screening, some in the development community suggested they felt Jeremy’s frustration and this was like their experiences of the planning system. I hope more companies invest in good quality planning comms than Clarkson clearly did and avoid the barristers’ fees that he now faces. After all, there are enough of us working in planning comms to choose from who work in Oxfordshire!
On Friday evening, with colleagues, I was at the Conservative Councillors Association Conference. While enjoying a drink in the bar we were joined by two West Oxfordshire Councillors, who remain nameless. Their take was fascinating: planning officers had made suggestions to Clarkson and they were ignored. The Council was not against him but the councillors were also resigned to losing the appeal.
It’s too late now, the appeal is only days away, but my advice to Clarkson would be to invite the Leader, portfolio holder, planning officers and ward councillors to take a look around. Work with them and find a solution that works for you all. It’s great TV and you are most definitely doing good for the rural community and the farming sector but you don’t need to fight the locals to do it!