– Robert Worsley looks after 550 acres of farm land in Sussex Low Weald
– He rejected £275 million from developers who wanted to build on his farm
– Cash would have made him super rich but he said he prefers simple life
Robert Worsley is fixing a stalled engine on his farm track when I visit. He pauses, wrench in hand, beaming, to greet me. Apologising, he says: ‘It’s so inconvenient when a vehicle breaks down in the middle of the drive.’ But there is room, just, to squeeze past and I wait, sitting on the terrace of his handsome 17th-century manor house — the oldest in the tiny village of Twineham, West Sussex — in spring sunshine until the repair is finished. Robert, 48, is a very hands-on farmer. He and four full-time employees look after his 550 pastural and arable acres of the Sussex Low Weald, as well as a parcel of indigenous forestry nearby — some of its timber has been used for restorations at Hampton Court Palace.
His is a relentless, demanding job — 6am starts and six-day weeks — and he would like to see more of his wife Jo and their daughters Anna, 13, and nine-year-old Rebecca. But he would choose no other way of life; neither would he want to live anywhere else in the world than this verdant and peaceful corner of rural England. Moreover, Robert has proved he would defend his home, land and livelihood, and preserve the quality and character of the countryside around him, at any cost. For he has rejected the chance to pocket £275 million — a windfall that would elevate him into the ranks of the world’s super rich — from developers who want to buy his farm and build on it.
Mayfield Market Towns plan a sprawling new town of 10,000 homes, an academy, primary schools and shops, which would house 25,000 people. They have offered Robert 100 times the market value of his farm to build on it. His land, at the epicentre of the proposed new town, would comprise only a seventh of the scheme, which would obliterate vast swathes of beautiful countryside, clog the roads and swallow up a cluster of nearby country towns and villages. The payout he could expect — up to £500,000 per acre if the project were granted planning permission — would enable him to leave Sussex (in a private jet if he chose), buy a vast estate miles from any threat of pending development and ensure his children and their heirs would never need to work again.
But in an age of venality and acquisitiveness he is a rarity: a man of strongly held beliefs and integrity, who will not be bought. Robert refuses to take the developers’ money. He’s been hailed this week as a national hero. So is he the most principled man in Britain?
On first reading you could say what a wonderful man he is and “we need more like him bla bla bla” and so on but I have to ask the question …. Which is more commendable? Preserving some green land? OR allowing 10,000 new homes to go ahead in a country which is desperately short of houses? Not to mention new small businesses, a school and so on. I get his point, I mean seriously I do, I understand where he’s coming from, but where exactly CAN developers build new homes in this country without somebody complaining or not selling their land?
It’s all very well for the Daily Mail to “skew” the article in a way which makes him out to be somewhat of a hero but the title could have read “selfish landowner who is depriving 25,000 people of somewhere to live”. I like green land as much as the next person but I think we need to be more pragmatic, this country has a housing crisis, new homes need building somewhere.
Chris Evans, the BBC Radio 2 Breakfast Show host was apparently “wowed” with Robert Worsley when he talked to him on his radio show, however, Chris Evans has somewhere to live, more than one place probably and is not exactly short of a few pounds in the bank is he? It’s easy to be a NIMBY when you’ve got a good steady income and own your own home but it’s a bit of a “downer” if you’re living hand to mouth and paying extortionate rent and can’t get on the housing ladder due to overly expensive houses, caused by a shortage of affordable housing.
I know we could argue our country is “full of foreigners, we should send them back to wherever they come from” but it’s not that easy is it? Do we send back the recent ones? The ones who’ve been here up to 20 years? 30 years? What if they were born here? Even if you send them back all you’re doing is relocating the problem to another country, eventually the world will be “full up” and I don’t have an answer for how we deal with that. I don’t want to see a world where eugenics rears its ugly head again because we’ve got so many people we decide to kill off the ones we don’t want because I’m sure the criteria for “who goes” would weed out the disabled, the “less intelligent” (I’m not going to get into the debate about what intelligence is here, we could talk about that all day and not come to a positive answer), the sick (people like me would be gone, I am insulin dependent), the sexually “ambiguous” and no doubt various ethnic minorities the people defining the criteria didn’t like.
On another note, given he owns the farm and all that land he’s obviously not short of a few quid anyway, if he lived in a house in Crawley he’d bought from the council and was a bus driver he’d take the money and run. It’s easy to be principled about not selling your land when you’re already rich. Myself? I’d take the money (heck it’s a lot of money) but not just because it’d make me obscenely rich but because it means 25,000 people living in a proper home and right now that’s for the good of this country.