Sat, 30 Jan 2021
EMILY von Opel has said support from members of the East End community had kept her going after her application to convert Sungrove Farm into a multi-purpose development was given the green light.
The proposal – which was unanimously approved by Basingstoke and Deane borough councillors on January 13 – has polarised the hamlet since it was unveiled in 2019, with campaign group Friends of East End vehemently opposing the development.
However, Mrs Von Opel said she had also had lots of support from the community which had encouraged her to press on with her plans to convert a farmhouse on the site into a mixed-use building housing a farm shop, bakery, café and education space.
Mrs von Opel, who has lived across the road in the Malverleys for the past 10 years, said: “There were definitely moments where I thought ‘Should I still be doing this?’
“I have heard stories of people being stopped in their country walks and told to say no to the project and I’ve felt very guilty that I was causing this unsettlement for the locals.
“When I first came up with the idea, I was really thinking locals would embrace it and actually there are many people who do, who have continued to support me and encourage me to carry on.
“There are many people who want this to happen and they’re delighted.
“I’m confident that people will come round to it.”
Despite concerns of the effects of the project on the area’s dark skies and that it would overly-urbanise the countryside, Mrs von Opel – who is married to billionaire Georg von Opel – insisted that the scheme would be small scale, using local produce and would help keep the village thriving.
She continued: “In my heart of hearts I’m only thinking I’m doing well for the community.
“Sungrove is a farm and it’ll remain a farm, but it will be an outlet where people can embrace being together over a cup of coffee or a slice of cake.
“People don’t like change so their imaginations likely run wild – it’s not going to be a hideous, commercial concept, it’s going to be a quiet, family-run business, and gentle.
“I think it’s a good way to keep the village going, and I’m hoping it’s the village who uses it the most.
“We have to think of the next generation as well – one friend told me they were going bonkers over what to do with their teenage children.
“If the farm shop was up and running I could give them work experience for example, and they can learn different skills.”
One of the concerns raised over the scheme has been the ability of the surrounding roads, many of which are single lane, to cope with an increase in traffic.
However, Mrs von Opel said she hoped people would use the building sensibly and residents from neighbouring villages would walk or cycle to East End.
She added: “I certainly don’t want an M25 outside our door.
“There are enough locals from Woolton Hill, East Woodhay, East End and Heath End that can walk or bicycle to the building, or as a place where they can stop off.
“I’m hoping I don’t encourage a lot of cars.”
Building work is expected to start in late 2021.