A PICK-YOUR-OWN farm that opened a cafe and a deli without planning permission could be forced to close after an appeal failed.
Rectory Farm, in Stanton St John, is appealing for public support to keep its pick-your-own operation open.
The farm has permission for the pick-your-own and farm shop, but other activities, including a café, delicatessen, picnic tables and children’s play equipment were deemed to be in excess of what was allowed by South Oxfordshire District Council.
Following an appeal against the enforcement notice issued by the council in September last year, farmer Richard Stanley, who has been at the farm since 1979, is urging supporters to contact their MP to ask for their support.
Mr Stanley was told the site could keep the children’s activities, which are a popular draw for families, and picnic benches, but the remaining seating, café and delicatessen must go by September 5.
He said: “Normally we go through until the end of September, sometimes longer, but because of the decision we have no alternative than to close on September 5.
“Then we have the winter to decide what to do next.”
He said he had ruled out a High Court appeal on cost grounds, and felt a new planning application was unlikely to gain support from the council.
Mr Stanley said while he was not considering closing the farm altogether, the viability of the pick-your own operation was in question without the additional features.
Changes to planning legislation on May 30 allow up to 500sq m of agricultural buildings to be used for alternative purposes, but he said the planning inspector said the farm shop and deli would not qualify.
Mr Stanley is hoping this could be reconsidered and said: “There aren’t many options, other than to quit commercially and pick our own fruit.
“We are looking at moving into buildings on the other side of the road because they are straight agricultural so we could close that building down and start another one up in an agricultural shed.”
He said without a pick-your-own, the farm only needed one employee, while currently it employs five to six staff year round and up to 40 would be on site during a busy summer day.
Mr Stanley said: “It’s quite a lot of stress and strain because we have a business to run and like any other business, we have borrowings and have to keep the bank manager reassured that we have a good business going forward that is going to be there next year and the year after.”
Headington resident Paul Rivers, a painter and decorator, is among those lobbying for the farm’s future.
He said: “I have seen it grow, over the years, into a well run and professional establishment, the deli and café complementing it perfectly.”
Planning inspector Nicholas Freeman said in his 30-page decision on the appeal in June that the café and delicatessen caused ‘substantial harm’ to surroundings.
He added: “I have carefully considered all other arguments put forward, especially those concerning farm diversification, the prospects for the pick-your-own enterprise and the rural economy in general but none of these considerations, taken individually or cumulatively, clearly outweighs the harm I have identified.”
David Chapman, who runs The Village Shop in Stanton St John, objected to the changes being granted planning permission due to the fact many of the products being sold from the deli were in direct competition.
He raised concerns at the inquiry it could undermine his trade, which only makes a limited profit, and ultimately lead to the closure of the shop.