Farmer builds tea room… but can’t sell tea

A beef farmer who is opening a farm shop and tea room this Easter faces a headache after planning officials told him he could not sell tea from the premises.

Farm owner Markus Saich is putting the final touches to his £150,000 shop at Wayfield Park Farm, in the leafy village of Pyecombe, Sussex.

He received the support of Mid Sussex District Council for the venture as well as a £26,000 grant from the Rural Payment Agency’s LEADER initiative.

But planning permission, as dictated by the South Downs National Park Authority, states that he can only sell products in the shop from his own farm or produced from within the park area – and not beyond it.

Wording from SDNPA planning decision

    No items shall be sold from the shop other than produce from Wayfield Farm and food and drink or other items produced within the South Downs National Park unless otherwise agreed in writing with the SDNPA.

    Reason: To ensure that the retail element of the proposal supports the local economy and does not have an adverse impact on the viability of retail units within the existing settlements in accordance with Policy CC1 of the South East Plan, Policy S10 of the Mid Sussex Local Plan 2004 and the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF).

The ruling means Mr Saich will not be legally allowed to sell tea or coffee, or any other food produced outside the confines of the national park, from his shop.

Mr Saich said: “When the shop opens, people will want to buy everything they need in the one visit. But I cannot grow tea, coffee, olives, avocados or bananas on the South Downs, so I will need to sell a percentage of products produced elsewhere.

“Of course, we would like to sell as much local food and drink as we can. But we cannot be tied down just exclusively to the South Downs. It’s absolute madness.

“The planning committee’s decision is overzealous. It’s my farm, my mortgage and my livelihood. Why should they be allowed to dictate to me what I can and cannot sell?”

When the shop opens, it will be the only food retail outlet in Pyecombe. Mr Saich said locals were excited about having a new farm shop but were scratching their heads over the “draconian” planning decision. “They simply can’t get their heads around it,” he added.

Now he is considering taking legal action against South Downs National Park Authority to try to overturn the ruling.

Mr Saich farms one of only two remaining purebred Sussex beef herds in the county, in partnership with his wife Elizabeth, at Wayfield Park Farm.

Michael Mack, managing agent of the National Farmers’ Retail and Markets Association (FARMA), said: “It’s important that any farm shop does champion produce from its own farm and the farm’s locality.

“We cannot comment on the exact planning position within this scenario. But we would expect to see planning decisions to allow a viable business to be run.

“We also expect a farm shop to be trading off the produce on its farm and from other local farmers, so that there is an economic benefit to the local economy.”

A spokeswoman for the South Downs National Park Authority said: “Planning permission for farm shops is often granted on the condition that the shop sells nothing but produce from that farm, otherwise there would be nothing to prevent the landowner selling the premises to any supermarket or retailer in the future.

“In this case the SDNPA Planning Committee ensured the condition enabled the farmer to also sell produce from other parts of the national park and support the wider economy of the South Downs. This condition was made very clear when planning permission for the shop was first granted.”

Update – 10 March

SDNPA granted Mr Saich planning permission last November to convert a cattle shed into a farm shop and tea room.

But Mr Saich said it was “ludicrous” that he was granted permission to build the tea room when tea can only be grown in warmer climates.

FARMA has previously said it would support farm shop applications where: 40% of goods are own produce plus locals, 40% are regional and 20% are from elsewhere.

If the recommendations were applied to his business, Mr Saich would be able to sell tea and coffee in his new building.

He said no other farm shops with the SDNP were restricted in this way. He also rubbished suggestions that he built the shop to attract a supermarket buyer.

“No supermarket will want to buy a converted cattle shed on a farm in the middle of nowhere,” he added.

See more