Adam Edwards: Red tape hinders a food revolution

The Cotswold Chippy van

The Cotswold Chippy van - Credit: Archant

‘The Weeks were granted a trading licence by the CDC, although extraordinarily, that licence did not allow them to trade anywhere that was regulated by the CDC’

It might be premature to say that the pickled onion from the chippy at the Far Peak campsite car park, near Northleach, is the beginning of a Cotswold revolution, but you never know. The bottled tidbit could be the much-needed catalyst for the insurgency. After all Marie Antoinette said `Let them eat cake’ and look what happened in France.

I mention the pickled onion because, while your average vinegary bulb is normally the size and constituency of a musket ball, the one I bought at the campsite was as soft and moreish as a Hobbs House Bakery donut. It was the garnish to what I would suggest is the best fish ‘n’ chips in our hills. Well it is the best fish and chips if you can smoke out its mysterious locations, which, like nineties’ Raves, can only be found by word of mouth or on Facebook.

On that Wednesday at the campsite a queue of well over twenty knowledgeable aficionados – including the chef to one of our titled gentry and a respected restaurant critic - stood in the rain waiting for their fix of cod and chips from The Cotswold Chippy. The chippy is a small van that trundles through our hills and dales every weekday evening and parks up in one or other of half a dozen villages for a couple of hours frying. Sometimes it is squirrelled behind the Trout Farm in Bibury on other occasions it is hiding in the Down Ampney Football Club or lurking in a pub car park. The only place it is not is where it should be – on the greens and in the public car parks smack in the middle of our villages.

It was last summer when Darren and Lisa Weeks decided to invest their life savings in a small truck and convert it into a mobile fish and chip shop. The plan was to serve outlying villages that have no other services. `Most villages in the Cotswolds have no pubs – except gastropubs – no shops and no busses,’ says Darren. `The old and infirm and the young are effectively cut off. We planned to provide a hot meal to these places.’ But the Weeks nearly went out of business before they could go into business. The Cotswold District Council (CDC) was not overly accommodating to the prospect of a fish and chip van in its area of outstanding natural beauty.

However after a monstrosity of red tape the Quenington couple was, thanks to handful of sympathetic councilors at a special hearing, finally granted a trading licence although, extraordinarily, that licence did not allow them to trade anywhere that was regulated by the CDC. This is despite the fact that there is, for example, an ice-cream van trading daily in the public car park in the heart of Bibury and a French panel van pedaling coffee and hot sausage rolls in the Market Place in Cirencester, which, oddly is a location that boasts more permanent coffee shops that you can shake a stirrer at. And so the Weeks have had to negotiate with private landlords in order to do business except where the Cotswolds is governed by West Oxfordshire District Council when they can, within reason, trade where they want.

The shame about the Week’s story is that the CDC should be encouraging small enterprising independent mobile traders instead of tying them up in bureaucracy and petty regulations. Extortionate business rates, high rents, the disappearance of the local shop and the vanishing drinkers’ pub have turned our villages into tumbleweed hamlets. Furthermore unlike those that live in local towns villagers can’t live on take-aways – by the time an American Hot pizza, for example, has been delivered (if any town take-away is bonkers enough to accept an order from the sticks) it is Arctic Cold.

The Cotswold Chippy is exactly what the Cotswolds needs. The area also needs a mobile chicken rotisserie, a top of the range pizza van and a really good burger truck. And if they are a success why not a Tex Mex pick-up, a Crispy Duck caravan or a Gyoza Dumpling trailer?

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Street food flourishes everywhere on the globe except it seems in the outlying villages of the Cotswolds. But maybe the revolution is starting. The public is voting with its feet. The long queues at the Cotswold Chippy, despite its obscure locations and lack of advertising, is proof that what Cotswold villagers want is freshly cooked cod and chips accompanied by the perfect pickled onion. Take note CDC.

For more from Adam Edwards, follow him on Twitter! @cotswoldhack