Planning inspectorate brought into Norfolk party venue dispute
Government officials are being drawn into a dispute over a noisy party venue in a small Norfolk village.
Darren Swayne, the owner of Hill House – a huge 17th century property in Saxlingham Nethergate – has been striving to keep using the site for large events, including business, stag and hen groups.
His business hit a roadblock last year when South Norfolk Council (SNC) rejected a bid to confirm the use of the property for such events was legally allowed.
Now Mr Swayne, a businessman and hedge fund manager, is taking the fight to the government’s planning inspectorate, which can overturn decisions when it thinks councils have strayed from the law.
The property has long been controversial among some locals.
Villagers have previously said 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.
Tempers have run so high in the village that many locals put up posters outside their properties with slogans to “Stop the Noise”.
One villager, John Cook – who lives near Hill House – even got elected to South Norfolk Council at last May’s election, having run on a campaign to tackle the issue. He claimed the council had failed to properly deal with locals’ complaints.
Since his election, there have been several significant developments.
Mr Swayne saw his bid for a ‘certificate of lawfulness’ – a planning device confirming that the use of the property is lawful – rejected by SNC and the authority serve an enforcement notice against him.
The notice alleges Mr Swayne has also breached planning regulations in a number of ways. He is appealing those accusations with the Planning Inspectorate.
SNC officials argue the property does not have the proper planning permission to be holiday accommodation or a commercial event space, while a straw bale structure built on the site to cut noise should never have been installed.
They also argue that the use of the site is “detrimental to the residential amenities of adjacent and nearby occupiers by reason of noise and general disturbance from activities”.
They added: “The large horseshoe arrangement of straw bales on-site and storage containers, create alien and incongruous features, which are inconsistent with the lawful use of Hill House as a single dwelling house, to the detriment of the character and appearance of the site and immediate locality.
“The adverse impacts of the use of the in terms of highway safety, neighbour amenity and the adverse visual impacts arising from the straw bale structure and storage containers onsite result in a level of harm such that the scheme fails to satisfy the requirements for new business development.”
A statement submitted on behalf of Mr Swayne insisted noise and traffic had been monitored during events and there was evidence the activities did not have a detrimental impact.
“The site is well screened on all boundaries and benefits from good levels of separation to adjoining properties that would significantly mitigate against any noise arising from the development,” it said.
“The appellant does not consider the horseshoe ‘structure’ to represent an alien and incongruous feature on account of the rural nature of the materials that form the ‘structure’.”
They also argue the change to a holiday accommodation is not a “material change of use” given the size of the property.
Mr Swayne added he has hired an acoustic expert, who “undertook the most extensive sound monitoring that he has ever undertaken” over two and a half years.
“His conclusion is that our small number of corporate events and holiday lets is so well managed it is without impact, with no detriment to the amenities, nor a nuisance to neighbours,” Mr Swayne said.
“The majority of our neighbours are in agreement and have written to the planning inspector to inform him. We are proud of what our amazing local team have achieved.”
The appeal will be heard in due course.