He wants to use beef from the farm on the Rockwood Estate in Witley to supply his hotel restaurants. One of these is the Old Thorns, a luxury golf and spa hotel near Liphook in Hampshire, and another is Lythe Hill, a luxury hotel and spa in Haslemere, Surrey.
But the estate is also in the Surrey Hills area of outstanding natural beauty (AONB), and AONBs can prove to be a difficult designation for farmers to overcome in planning applications. But Janet Long, Mr Shaw’s agent who runs Planit Consulting, is optimistic. “I think there are 240 acres of grassland and no buildings. So as long as we meet the government requirements for this being reasonably necessary for agriculture, there is no reason why it cannot be accepted in the AONB.”
Ms Long agreed that the development is very unusual, especially in Surrey where people are notoriously sensitive about planning applications. “I have done a lot of additional farm buildings, but not a new farm in its entirety. Most people don’t have the money to invest in a whole new facility.”
Plans for the farm were submitted to Waverley borough council earlier this year after Mr Shaw bought Rockwood in 2014. It had been the home of Benazir Bhutto, the former prime minister of Pakistan. At that time, there were objections because up to 750 cattle would have been raised in an intensive unit. Compassion In World Farming, the animal welfare agency based in Godalming, Surrey, said then: “The application claims that the proposed intensive farm will be a sustainable farming system. We cannot concur with that statement on environmental and animal safety and welfare grounds.”
The council brought in Reading Agricultural Consultants (RAC) to give some expert advice, and they concluded that the land could not sustain 750 cattle. “There was an outcry,” said Ms Long. “But the design we received was for an intensive unit, even though it was not originally planned to be like that. The client was happy to amend the scheme.” After a site meeting which RAC attended, the scheme was redesigned because if the application had been withdrawn, the fee for submitting a new one would have been more than £20,000.
RAC accepted that the new scheme is “reasonably necessary” for agriculture. But there are still objections based on the development being in an AONB, animal welfare concerns and access on to a dangerous part of the A286 Haslemere road. But Ms Jones said the county council was satisfied with plans to create new access on to the road. “If you are sitting in your car at a distance of 2.4 metres from the edge of the curb, you have to be able to see 160 metres in both directions so you can pull out and see what is coming on either carriageway. You can do that with this scheme.”
She added that there were no farm buildings serving the land as those that used to be there were sold off because they were unsuitable for modern agriculture. Recently, there has been investment in new stock fencing and reseeding and water has been provided to the land.
The new scheme includes a house for a manger – which is the subject of a separate application – to look after 150 beef suckler cattle in a high welfare unit with two cattle buildings. The herd will be grazed from at least May until November on estate pasture and housed in a split straw bed system during the winter. The herd will be made up of 113 Hereford cattle which will spring calve outdoors and be sold at eight months, with their heifers kept as replacements.
The other 37 cattle will be late maturing native Longhorns which will calve outdoors, reared to finishers and supplied to restaurants in Mr Shaw’s hotels. The holding will also have two Longhorn bulls and one Hereford bull which will be kept separately.
There will be no slurry lagoons on the holding as underground tanks and slurry pits will collect run off from the farmyard and straw based muck will be spread straight away or stored temporarily before it is spread on to maize.