Millionaires, villagers and an organic food fight

It sells venison carpaccio and exotic tisanes. But Lady Bamford's chichi shop is in the Cotswolds, not Notting Hill. And the locals don't like it. Terry Kirby meets the green-welly brigade taking on the ladies who lunch - in the country
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The virgin olive oil is being drizzled over the dishes of venison carpaccio and organic salad leaves, while the ciabatta, still warm from the ovens, is already sliced for serving. All around the light and airy café, with its marble-topped serving counters, polished wooden tables and discreet but fashionably clad waiters, the ladies, and their companions, are lunching.

Some may have just come from their yoga or pilates classes in the adjoining studio, some from perusing the organic clothes, scented candles and designer gardening accessories on sale next door. Outside, the parking spaces are crammed with BMWs, Mercedes and Jaguars.

We could be somewhere in fashionable urban London - Harrods or Harvey Nicks perhaps, or a new place just off Notting Hill Gate. Actually we are in the deepest Cotswolds, surrounded by lush farmland and picture postcard villages of honey-coloured stone, somewhere to the east of Stow-on-the-Wold.

Welcome to the sleek and sophisticated world of the award-winning Daylesford Organics, the personal vision of Carole, Lady Bamford, a former air hostess and the wife of Sir Anthony Bamford, head of the JCB empire, owner of the Daylesford estate and chum and host to Tony and Cherie Blair at their other home in the Caribbean.

But it is a world and a vision that has caused consternation among some local people, who accuse it of bringing unwanted and inappropriate commercialism to the Cotswolds, and conflict with the local council, who say the unauthorised expansion of its activities could result in court action.

As one resident of Stow-on-the-Wold, who asked not to be identified, put it: "The argument over Daylesford encapsulates the argument over what we want to visit the countryside for. Do we want it to be somewhere where we can go walking or riding or fishing? Or is it somewhere where we just go to consume luxury goods being sold as part of a lifestyle package?"

Consumption, in one form or another, is certainly what Daylesford Organics is all about. To the foodie, there is little to criticise in the basic premise and what it has achieved in the three years since it opened. Cheeses are made on site, breads are baked in the café's ovens, fruit and vegetables come from the 1,500-acre Daylesford Farm kitchen garden, venison from the other Bamford estate in Staffordshire. The shop, the café and its produce have been praised by critics and won organic food awards. Many of the celebrities who have colonised the Cotswolds have found it a welcome source of the kind of foods they take for granted in London. Outposts have been established, perhaps predictably, in Selfridges and a café in Sloane Square, while a mail-order business is doing well.

If the business had confined itself to a farm shop and café, albeit of a more ambitious and metropolitan feel than most similar enterprises, there is little doubt that no voices of concern would have been raised. But Daylesford has much bigger ambitions. The shop is not confined to locally sourced foods. As well as muesli at £6.50 a bag, you can buy Tunisian glassware, dates from Morocco, pasta sauces and olives from Italy, bespoke chorizo sausages from Spain, as well as fine wines and champagnes from France. Mangoes, grapes and pomegranates are on sale among the Cotswold carrots and local apples, raising eyebrows among those who think that farm shops should be about showcasing local produce.

But that's not all. In the past few years, Daylesford Organics has expanded into three other large barn conversions, where it is now selling clothes - designed by Lady Bamford and made in China - and plants, gardening tools and accessories, such as faux-aged watering cans and designer twine. There's also a studio offering massage, reflexology, pilates and such delights as ear candling. There are counters serving herbal drinks and Chinese teas. Scented candles burn everywhere and water tinkles from a fountain in the courtyard, surrounded by manicured greenery. The atmosphere is more Sloane Street than farm shop, and cited as evidence by those who say that the Cotswolds have now simply become an extension of west London.

"It's not a farm shop, is it? We call it Harrods of the Cotswolds," said David Price, 76, a retired civil servant who lives in the nearby village of Adlestrop. "We wouldn't dream of shopping there, not at those prices. It's all new money people, driving 4x4s. We'd rather go to Waitrose in Cheltenham."

His wife, Veronica, 71, agrees, "It is just too ridiculous for words. The clothes they sell aren't even the kind country people want. It just doesn't cater for us."

At the hamlet's minuscule post office and shop, the postmistress, Angela Price (no relation), agrees that it serves a world far removed from hers: "I don't see it as competition for us and I don't see any reason to go there. And we are concerned about the traffic it generates, all those big cars coming in and out."

They are among many local people with doubts about the Daylesford enterprise, despite recognising its contribution to the local economy, its organic status and its overall attractiveness. But others have complained about the smell from its chutney-making activities, while there is also suspicion that the water pressure drops when the dairy is in full swing.

These concerns came to a head last month at the local parish meeting, which objected to Daylesford's application to Cotswold District Council for retrospective planning permission for the expansion into the sale of its "lifestyle" goods because a de facto retail park was being created.

The chairwoman, Julia Edwards, said: "We don't have any problems with the basic premise of a farm shop - it sells some nice things, and it has a very good restaurant - but it is a question of it becoming more than just a farm shop and diversifying into areas which are inappropriate for a rural area and which it hasn't got permission for."

It is their attitude to the planning regulations that rankles with some local residents, who themselves have to cope with rules that govern even the type of plaster they use on a house extension. Geoffrey Smith, a publisher, said: "There is some feeling that the Bamfords are getting away with it because they are rich and powerful, but there is no reason why they should not abide by the same restrictions as the rest of us."

But there are also mutterings about their lack of integration with local people - a feeling exacerbated when Sir Anthony flies over the village in his helicopter every day, commuting to his office in Staffordshire. "I wave while I'm hanging up the washing," said Mr Smith's partner, Victoria Huxley.

Some of the strongest criticism has come from the local branch of the Campaign to Protect Rural England. Lynn Greenwold, the secretary, said: "We objected to the permission because it is a question of whether you consider that things like 'lifestyle' goods, gardening tools and yoga classes fit into the definition of countryside activities. And things like baskets, candles and cookery books also don't really seem to be products of the estate, which is what farm shops are supposed to sell under the regulations."

The view is shared by Katharine Assheton, owner of Longborough Farm Shop, just north of Stow and a more traditionally rustic enterprise, based at the family fruit farm. "They seem to have taken a very broad interpretation of what constitutes a farm shop, and I understand the unease people feel," she said. "I believe it is important to support local producers, and 70 per cent of our produce comes from within 30 miles. I'm uneasy about mail order as well as people who buy locally."

Following the objections, Cotswold district council planners recommended the application be rejected. Daylesford promptly withdrew the application and now has until 14 December to submit a revised application. Failure to do so would result in officials beginning enforcement action - a process that could end up in court. Officials are also examining whether the expansion into adjoining buildings contravenes the original permission for the farm shop.

Not everyone The Independent spoke to yesterday was critical of Daylesford. Mr Smith stressed that, on balance, he was in favour of the shop and its ethos - it was just the planning side he took issue with. "You have to agree it is a very chic addition to the area," he said. Ian MacKenzie, co-owner of the nearest pub, the Fox Inn at Lower Oddington, which, with a distinctly up-market take on the rural pub theme, might feel itself in competition, is a huge fan. "Daylesford is wonderful; I buy food from there and send people there to eat. It's good for the area and good for competition. I won't hear a word said against it."

Amid all the well-heeled customers leaving the shop yesterday was Eleanor Gardiner, 41, clutching a small pot plant in a glossy carrier and heading for her BMW across the immaculately gravelled car park. A banker on a career break while her children were growing, she said: "I love this place. It is fantastic. All the other mothers meet for coffee here regularly."

Daylesford counter their critics by pointing out that it has taken steps to improve driver visibility and to put traffic calming measures in place. So far as the planning application is concerned, a spokeswomen said discussions have been taking place with the local planners and stressed that the issue only related to the use of the buildings, not the expansion. She added: "We cannot comment on the likely outcome. But we have no plans to close any part of the business."

That certainly seems true - Daylesford are advertising for a receptionist for the yoga studio and an assistant for the Chinese tea counter.

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