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South Norfolk Council decision halts ‘Ibiza-style parties’ at hall

Villagers who have been fighting a long battle against a glamping business they accuse of holding “Ibiza-style parties” have won a significant victory after officials ruled it was operating unlawfully.

A planning application to determine whether Hill House – a huge 17th-century property in Saxlingham Nethergate – can be used for large events, including businesses and stag and hen groups, has been rejected by South Norfolk Council (SNC).

The property, owned by businessman and hedge fund founder Darren Swayne, has long been controversial among locals, with one even getting himself elected to the district council with a pledge to tackle the issue.

The venue is situated in Saxlingham Nethergate. Picture: LDRS
The venue is situated in Saxlingham Nethergate. Picture: LDRS

Villagers say they have had to put up with excessive noise and drunken shouting from the site, as well as adults running through the quiet streets playing tag and games being organised in an abandoned church on the edge of the village.

The ten-bedroom property can accommodate up to 25 guests, but many more can stay in bell tents in the grounds and locals say some events have attracted crowds of up to 200 people with some lasting several days.

It led to villagers setting up a campaign group against the property, with one local even comparing events to Ibiza-style parties.

Hill House can accommodate up to 25 guests. Picture: LDRS
Hill House can accommodate up to 25 guests. Picture: LDRS

The village had a population of under 700 at the 2011 census.

Mr Swayne had been seeking a certificate of lawfulness – a planning device confirming that the use of a property is lawful.

They can be applied for once the land has had the same use continuously for 10 years.

In his application, Mr Swayne argued that Hill House had been open since October 2007, providing invoices, brochures and reviews as evidence.

But SNC’s planning officials said the guest logs provided by the applicant only begin in detail from 2012 and argued there had been two significant changes that constituted an interruption in the 10 years of use.

The first change came in 2016 with the introduction of storage containers, which they described as an “unauthorised” use.

The second was the start of “field-based events” in September 2019, when the site began to be used for large-scale glamping events of more than 100 guests.

Saxlingham Nethergate Parish Council (SNPC) argued that there was also a break in use during the coronavirus pandemic, but SNC officials dismissed this, partly because the business’ website was open for bookings during that period.

The news that the application was rejected was welcomed by SNC’s Saxlingham Nethergate councillor, John Cook, who ran in May’s local elections on a platform against the business.

“The village and myself are completely relieved by the decision,” he said.

“It’s been a stressful nine months for all of us but it is a great example of the planning system working properly and I believe it has come to the right conclusion.

“Hopefully now the village can come together and move forward.”

SNPC councillor Mike Haslam, a former head of planning for SNC, said: “The report rejects the assertion that the use has been established for 10 years.

“Villagers will be delighted that any further development will require planning permission.

“It’s caused grief across the village for some time.”

Mr Swayne said he was working through the decision notice and considering the options.

“Whilst we do not agree with the legal opinion that the officers have received, we are grateful that a decision has been made and thank the officers for all of their hard work. We are looking forward to meeting with SNC soon to discuss the way forward.

“Whilst the applications were being considered we also took the opportunity to communicate further with the local community, understand opportunities and address any concerns.

“The positive impact that Hill House is having on all who come is something that we are all extremely proud of.”

It is unclear what the rejection means for people who have booked the venue, with the website indicating bookings up until September 2024.

Hiring the venue for a weekend can cost £5,140.

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