Asimple idea turned into a nightmare…

14 August 1998

Asimple idea turned into a nightmare…

In our annual look at farm retailing, Suzie Horne focusses on

the legal, planning and health and safety implications of

establishing a farm shop. Sarah Walton reports on a

farm-based fitness club and Daniel Jones looks at

renovation possibilities. First, though, Alan Barker

passes on a salutory tale from Yorkshire

IT ALL seemed so straightforward. A farm shop to provide much-needed extra income. But that was before Helena Ellis became mired in a planning nightmare over a farm shop sign that was to last three years.

At first, plans to set up a shop retailing home-produced beef, pork and lamb from the 80ha (200-acre) Bursea Farm at Holme-on-Spalding Moor, in East Yorks went well.

Her diversification plan received the backing of the local district council in 1991. In fact, its environmental health and trading standards officials could not have been more helpful.

It was only when it came to putting up a sign to guide customers to the farm shop that Mrs Ellis ran into the full force of bureaucracy. Planners from Boothferry Council objected to the sign she erected on a farm trailer in her own field beside a busy holiday route. She was ordered to remove it immediately.

Over the next two and a half years, Mrs Ellis put in several applications for a sign of different sizes and in different locations. All were rejected, on the grounds that the presence of a sign would be detrimental to the rural character of the area and would set a precedent for others to follow.

Nice supplement

Farm shop sales built up nicely to supplement income from the farm and husband Davids contracting business. But then business began to fall away when the sign was removed. The council argued that if Mrs Ellis had set up a shop in the middle of nowhere, she must have had an established customer base and, therefore, did not need to advertise. Boothferry councillors also prided themselves on their no signs policy.

Eventually, Mrs Ellis won the right on appeal to have a sign but not one that she felt was very effective. She was allowed a finger sign to Bursea Farm tucked away in a hedge bottom.

"Now I have a decent sign, we are picking up more passing trade and the shop business is building up nicely again," says Mrs Ellis.

The farm shop specialises in the sale of meat from rare breeds including her Saddleback and Gloucester Old Spot pigs. "My customers like to visit a working farm and like to know their meat is from animals reared on the farm," explains Mrs Ellis.

After battling for the right to advertise their farm shop, Mrs Ellis is preparing to confront a new wall of bureaucracy. Having paid out £85 to become FABBL farm assured, the farm shop now faces an inspection bill of £150 before Mrs Ellis is permitted to describe her beef as British. That is despite the fact that all the animals at Bursea Farm have British ear tags and hold British cattle passports.

"Its a nonsense," complains Mrs Ellis. "There is no control over imports and we have to pay to confirm to consumers that our beef is British."

Signs can be a headache

Great care should be taken in planning the signing strategy for any retail operation. Almost any directional signpost will need planning permission, says Philip Kratz of Cambridge solicitor Taylor Vinters.

"There are complicated rules about the size of advertising signs on premises," explains Mr Kratz. "In areas where there is a lack of empathy with rural operations, enforcement officers may drive round removing signs that do not have planning permission. In other areas, they will be tolerated."

Some councils will want to have a considerable input into signing strategy and will insist on planning applications.

For an advertising sign on the applicants own premises, the charge is £50. For a sign to be sited on another persons land, the planning application will cost £90.

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