wrong thing wrong pkace banner
September 28, 2016

Overwhelming rejection of caviar farm plans from local residents in East Chiltington

Is Caviar Ken's Campaign Crumbling?

by residents - Chiltington Caviar Farm Action Group

Local residents have made clear to the Lewes District Council (LDC) the strength of their opposition to a planning application for a sturgeon farm, caviar processing plant and a dwelling on a greenfield site in East Chiltington near Lewes, a quiet rural hamlet close to the South Downs National Park in East Sussex which is home to about 180 families.

'As of yesterday evening the Lewes District Council planning website showed that 104 individuals had registered their formal objection to this plan. Most of the objectors are local residents. Given the size of our parish this is an overwhelming demonstration of opposition to this scheme,' said Janet Downes, local resident and organiser of the Chiltington Caviar Farm Action Group.

'In addition respected groups such as the CPRE (the Campaign for the Protection of Rural England) and OART (the Ouse and Adur Rivers Trust) have objected, as have East Chiltington and Hamsey parish councils. Our District Councillor, Sarah Osborne, and our MP, Maria Caulfield, support the residents. The NFU has told me directly that they do not support this application.'

She continued, '45 people expressed support in comments on the LDC website - none of them live in East Chiltington. Most of them come from London or further afield. It is becoming apparent that this scheme has less backing than the developer Mr Benning led people to believe.'

Things looked different a few weeks ago. When Mr Benning defended his plans at the East Chiltington Parish Council Meeting on September 8th he listed organisations he said 'now fully support' his plans including the NFU (an NFU 'Back British Farming' poster has been used to promote the application and demonstrate the NFU's support - see side bar) and referencing 'talks' with the CPRE (the Campaign for the Protection of Rural England). He spoke confidently of gaining the support of the local MP, Maria Caulfield, and said that he was, 'already working with the Ouse and Adur Rivers Trust (OART) to ensure that no harm will come to the sea trout. They are also writing a report to confirm this in the planning application.'

(The Ouse and Adur Rivers Trust is an expert, independent local body that works with local landowners and others to protect and improve the health of those river systems and the plant and animal life that depends upon them, including sea trout.)

On September 15th OART formally objected to the scheme and stated in its comments, 'There have been reports that OART supports this application. Those reports are inaccurate.' They go on to say, 'Our main concern is that abstraction of water from the stream (known locally as Roman's Winterbourne, a tributary of Bevern Stream) will have adverse effects on the seasonal population of brown trout and sea trout that spawn in the stream during most winters when the stream is flowing.' They question the scheme's reliance on a reed bed for water purification saying, 'Although the current application states that a "closed-loop" system will be in operation and that there will be no discharge into the stream, we believe that the setup is infeasible ……. Without the means to strip out the phosphorus (not mentioned in his application) he [the developer] will have no recourse but to tanker away large volumes of water on a regular basis and there appears to be no mention of this in the planning application.'

On September 16th East Chiltington and Hamsey Parish Councils submitted their objections to the scheme on grounds of its impact on the landscape, the environment and traffic, and also questioned the necessity for a 3-bedroomed dwelling on the site.

On the same day the Lewes branch of Campaign for the Protection of Rural England (CPRE) submitted objections to the caviar farm plans to Lewes District Council stating, 'No evidence is provided that the applicants have the necessary scientific background to manage the proposed farm safely or that they have access to the necessary expertise, which may well not exist currently in the UK. This lack of the necessary scientific expertise creates an unacceptably high risk that is not evidently mitigated in the present application.'

The CPRE went on to raise further concerns about environmental risks, harm to the setting of heritage assets, access via the narrow Chiltington Lane and the size of and inadequate justification for the associated house.

On 22nd September a spokesperson on behalf of Maria Caulfield contacted Ms Downes and stated, 'I would wish to confirm that Maria did meet with Ken Benning and clearly stated that she would be supporting the residents and not supporting the caviar farm. I appreciate that certain media did report this differently through information given to them not by Maria's office. We also contacted all media which had reported this to refute the comments.'

On 23rd September Ms Downes contacted the NFU and was told, 'The NFU is neutral in this matter. We do not support or object to this planning application. We do not know from where or in what context Mr Benning got the poster and we are looking into it. These posters were intended to thank consumers for backing British farmers rather than provide support for planning applications.'

The poster was taken down on September 27th.


Residents of East Chiltington are in dispute with a developer, Kenneth Benning of London Fine Foods, who wants to build a sturgeon farm, caviar processing plant and a dwelling on a greenfield site in this quiet rural hamlet close to the South Downs National Park in East Sussex.

They fear that his plans for an experimental type of caviar farming could leave them with a massive scar on the landscape and damage local water courses through excessive extraction and pollution.

The planning application (LW/16/069 ) requests permission to build a reservoir, 6 open ponds/water bodies, a 279m2 caviar processing facility, a 130m2 3-bedroomed dwelling, bunds and associated trackways on a site that slopes steeply towards a seasonal watercourse, the Romans Winterbourne, and that lacks a ready supply of running water (see pictures below).

Experts have estimated that 4000 cubic metres of earth will need to be moved (some 7,265 metric tonnes or over 400 4 axle tipper payloads) to implement the plans.

The developer, Mr Kenneth Benning of London Fine Foods, applied for planning permission in August to build the caviar farm, processing plant and dwelling on a greenfield site previously owned by his family, that occupies two fields close to the South Downs National Park, in East Chiltington near Lewes, East Sussex.

The deadline for comments from the public on the plans was September 16th. Lewes District Council has struggled to keep up with the volume of comments submitted. For 3 weeks from September 2nd no comments at all were posted on its planning website, leaving the impression that local opposition was limited.

The photographs below show (from top to bottom)

( 1) the application site before the developer began digging without planning permission 2 years ago

(2) as it is now with 2 'test' pits constructed (without obtaining the necessary planning permission to do so) and

(3) with the developer's current plan superimposed.
view of the site before unofficial excavations  in 2014
satellite view of plan site as it looks  in early 2016 showing  size of test digs
artist impression of caviar farm after build  interpreting data  filed at LDC
in the news
Where inexactly is Chiltington Lane?
East Chiltington Parish Council says No to Caviar Farm
LDC LW/16/0695 - a rhyme of the Romans winterbourne
Developer gets East Sussex Highways to remove local protest signs
Residents Meet to Protest Caviar Farm Plan in Chiltington Lane, near Lewes
say no poster - landscape image

NFU poster on gate of caviar farm site during objection period

On Friday September 2, 2016 at about 5.20 pm - an NFU support poster was affixed to the gate of the proposed caviar farm site in Chiltington Lane by the developer Mr Benning.

This raised two concerns among residents.

1 - It made the planning notice letter harder to see (as it was an A4 letter now set against a large white background - "hidden in plain sight"). When LDC planning was asked about this later - LDCP said it didn't matter from their point of view as the planning notice had been advertised in other ways. And they were used to developers shuffling their planning notices around a bit and sometimes even removing them entirely. (So far so good.)

2 - But another concern was that the presence of this sign, on this gate, and at this time seemed to imply support for the caviar farm scheme by the NFU. And we wondered if that was really the situation.

A week later it seemed we had an answer. As in the East Chiltington Parish Council planning meeting on September 8th, Mr Benning when speaking about his caviar farm plan said - "There are now many organisations which now fully support this diversified farming plan - the National Farmers Union, the Country Landowners Association..."

Residents we spoke to thought it curious that such a project could be described by the developer in various media reports as "British Farming" and we thought it mighty strange that the NFU might seriously be backing such a project.

We didn't mind the sign itself - because many of us support a rich variety of farm shops around the local area. And as signs go - it was pretty.

Did the sign really imply that the NFU was backing the caviar farm?

It took several weeks of hard probing to find out.

We learned the NFU is neutral.

A spokesperson said - 'The NFU does not support or object to this planning application."

PS - Another possible interpretation of the NFU sign on the gate - which we thought was amusing and unintended - might be that - "thank you for your support" was a message being addressed at people passing through the lane who had seen the wrong thing wrong place posters and told their friends about the action web site.

PPS - The NFU sign appeared on the gate in the same week that the developer had asked the authorities to remove residents' protest signs.

The NFU poster was taken down on September 27th.

For Sale sign - appears at gate of caviar farm site
Monday, November 28, 2016

Following the interim planning application committee decision on Wednesday November 23, 2016 which was widely reported and confirmed soon after at the weekend a new sign appeared at the gate of the contentious caviar farm site in Chiltington Lane - "for sale".

Indications are that offers for the 6 acre site should be in the region over £100,000.
for sale sign at the gate of contentious caviar farm site in East Chiltington
For more details contact Simon Henkel at the Haywards Heath office of the estate agents Batcheller Monkhouse (tel 01444 453 181). ...click here to see the brochure (pdf)