The farmer who fell foul of a Dimbleby: Peter Dunn finds a family whose ambition to build a home is opposed by a mediacouple Peter Dunn reports from a peaceful Avon valley on an everyday tale of country folk

RESIDENTS OF Upper Swainswick, a gracious Georgian village outside Bath in Avon, were jubilant when they stopped Barry Vivian, a local deer farmer, building himself a family house on his sloping land facing their Cam Brook valley community.

Mr Vivian says he has been forced to put his farm on the market because his family cannot face another winter in their exposed hillside mobile homes. One of the most eloquent campaigners against the house - the royal biographer and Swainswick resident Jonathan Dimbleby - wants to buy Mr Vivian's deer farm and use it for breeding cattle.

Mr Dimbleby is thought to believe that the 120-acre site is worth around pounds 150,000, about half its estimated market value according to Mr Vivian's agents. In an attempt at reconciliation Mr Dimbleby has written to Mr Vivian saying there was 'nothing personal' in the role he and his wife, the writer Bel Mooney, played in stopping the deer-farm housing development.

Mr Dimbleby, president of the Council for the Protection of Rural England, has recently started farming in the Cam Brook valley, part of the Cotswolds Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. (AONB). Last Christmas, he paid about pounds 50,000 for 55 acres of meadow adjoining the Vivians' property. He has just applied for - and got - permission from Wansdyke District Council to build a wooden cow shed on his land, which faces Swainswick village across the valley. It will be 43ft long, 12ft high and topped with fibre cement roof sheeting.

Mr Dimbleby is proud of the effort that has been made to blend his barn into the landscape, behind a big steel shed owned by Mr Vivian. In the past, he has been critical of other agricultural buildings spoiling the area.

Mr Vivian and his wife Val are not amused by Mr Dimbleby's reputation as a conservationist, nor, today, by his interest in their farm. 'Why should I be?' Mrs Vivian says. 'He's put me through six years of hell here.' Mr Dimbleby and Miss Mooney deny they have been the primary cause of the Vivians' suffering.

Mr Dimbleby said: 'I've written to them to say I showed them no ill-feeling, that I objected to what they were doing because I support the planning laws. They took the view, because my name was familiar, that in some way I was disproportionately influential in decisions made by the planning authorities.'

The Vivians bought their land outside Woolley village eight years ago and established it as one of the largest deer farms in Britain with 500 head grazing 14 paddocks. Their customers include Sainsbury's. Because the farm had no house, the family, including two children, have lived in a 23ft caravan on temporary planning permissions. In winter their water supply freezes; family meals are eaten alfresco.

Four years ago, supported by the farmers' union and the government's Agricultural Advisory and Development Services, the Vivians applied to Wansdyke council for outline permission to build a four-bedroom home on their land. They pointed out that consent had already been given by Wansdyke for a family house on a smaller deer farm established (also in 1987) in the Limpley Stoke valley, also part of the Cotswolds AONB.

Permission was refused because of 'local concerns' about impact on Bath's green belt area and fears of 'ribbon development'. 'Then we lost on appeal on the grounds that we didn't need to live on the farm, which we strongly dispute,' says Mr Vivian. 'The inspector said our answer was to look in the local hamlets for a house. There was one for sale in Woolley at pounds 385,000 and another was pounds 700,000, completely out of our price bracket. We were then advised we could put up a venison processing plant with shop and offices so we did that, in stone, at a cost of pounds 30,000, just before the law on farmers' permitted development rights expired in January 1991. We regarded it as a lawful building but the council said it looked like a bungalow and told us to pull it down.'

Again the Vivians went to appeal, and lost. Before the hearing Mr Dimbleby wrote to Department of the Environment planners protesting about 'those who are indifferent to this precious landscape and would ride roughshod through the planning law'. His letter ended: 'I urge you in the name of my wife Bel Mooney as well as many, many others to demonstrate that the law . . . cannot be ignored with impunity.'

In August last year the Vivians took their case to the High Court and lost. Last December, ill with exhaustion, Mrs Vivian wrote to Wansdyke council saying she had had enough and was going to sell.

Within a week, according to Mr Vivian, a letter arrived from Mr Dimbleby. Dated 18 December, it said: 'I have heard a rumour wafting around the valley - like all rumours not to be trusted] - that you are thinking of selling your farm. If this is more than the rumour factory at work, perhaps we could talk about this as I would be interested at a market price] If it is just rumour-mongering forgive me raising the matter: I won't spread it] In the meantime, may I wish you and your family a Happy Christmas.'

On Christmas Eve, Mr Vivian wrote back saying he was reluctant to sell but added: 'Everything is for sale at the right price. In this case the right price is three times the present 'market value' . . .'

A week later the Vivians had a short note from Mr Dimbleby announcing that he had just bought land adjoining their property from Gordon Packer, a farmer who was retiring. 'I very much hope we can be good neighbours across the lane. If I cause you a problem let me know (tho' I pray I shan't),' he wrote.

'The really galling thing about it,' says Mr Vivian, 'is he put 15 cows on his land and he puts in this application saying he needs this big shed and gets his application passed. What do you think I felt about it?'

(Photograph omitted)

Suggested Topics
Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
Arts and Entertainment
Books should be for everyone, says Els, 8. Publisher Scholastic now agrees
booksAn eight-year-old saw a pirate book was ‘for boys’ and took on the publishers
Life and Style
Mary Beard received abuse after speaking positively on 'Question Time' about immigrant workers: 'When people say ridiculous, untrue and hurtful things, then I think you should call them out'
Life and Style
Most mail-order brides are thought to come from Thailand, the Philippines and Romania
Life and Style
Margaret Thatcher, with her director of publicity Sir Gordon Reece, who helped her and the Tory Party to victory in 1979
voicesThe subject is being celebrated by the V&A museum, triggering some happy memories for former PR man DJ Taylor
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Installation and Service / Security Engineer

£22000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company is part of a Group...

Recruitment Genius: Service Charge Accounts Assistant

£16000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you a a young, dynamic pers...

Cancer Research UK: Corporate Partnerships Volunteer Events Coordinator – London

Voluntary: Cancer Research UK: We’re looking for someone to support our award ...

Ashdown Group: Head of IT - Hertfordshire - £90,000

£70000 - £90000 per annum + bonus + car allowance + benefits: Ashdown Group: H...

Day In a Page

General Election 2015: Chuka Umunna on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband

Chuka Umunna: A virus of racism runs through Ukip

The shadow business secretary on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband
Yemen crisis: This exotic war will soon become Europe's problem

Yemen's exotic war will soon affect Europe

Terrorism and boatloads of desperate migrants will be the outcome of the Saudi air campaign, says Patrick Cockburn
Marginal Streets project aims to document voters in the run-up to the General Election

Marginal Streets project documents voters

Independent photographers Joseph Fox and Orlando Gili are uploading two portraits of constituents to their website for each day of the campaign
Game of Thrones: Visit the real-life kingdom of Westeros to see where violent history ends and telly tourism begins

The real-life kingdom of Westeros

Is there something a little uncomfortable about Game of Thrones shooting in Northern Ireland?
How to survive a social-media mauling, by the tough women of Twitter

How to survive a Twitter mauling

Mary Beard, Caroline Criado-Perez, Louise Mensch, Bunny La Roche and Courtney Barrasford reveal how to trounce the trolls
Gallipoli centenary: At dawn, the young remember the young who perished in one of the First World War's bloodiest battles

At dawn, the young remember the young

A century ago, soldiers of the Empire – many no more than boys – spilt on to Gallipoli’s beaches. On this 100th Anzac Day, there are personal, poetic tributes to their sacrifice
Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves

Follow the money as never before

Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves, reports Rupert Cornwell
Samuel West interview: The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents

Samuel West interview

The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents
General Election 2015: Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, on what the leaders' appearances tell us about them
Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

The architect of the HeForShe movement and head of UN Women on the world's failure to combat domestic violence
Public relations as 'art'? Surely not

Confessions of a former PR man

The 'art' of public relations is being celebrated by the V&A museum, triggering some happy memories for DJ Taylor
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef succumbs to his sugar cravings with super-luxurious sweet treats

Bill Granger's luxurious sweet treats

Our chef loves to stop for 30 minutes to catch up on the day's gossip, while nibbling on something sweet
London Marathon 2015: Paula Radcliffe and the mother of all goodbyes

The mother of all goodbyes

Paula Radcliffe's farewell to the London Marathon will be a family affair
Everton vs Manchester United: Steven Naismith demands 'better' if Toffees are to upset the odds against United

Steven Naismith: 'We know we must do better'

The Everton forward explains the reasons behind club's decline this season
Arsenal vs Chelsea: Praise to Arsene Wenger for having the courage of his convictions

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Praise to Wenger for having the courage of his convictions