Sunday, 13 June 2021

Wedding venue owner in fight to avoid shutdown

A WOMAN is appealing against an order to shut down an unauthorised wedding and party venue.

Penny Holley, who owns The Copse in Mill Lane, Kidmore End, began hosting functions for up to 120 people in 2016.

Three years later, she was ordered to stop after neighbours complained to South Oxfordshire District Council, the planning authority.

The council said she could still offer holiday lets to smaller groups, as she had been doing for years with permission, but issued an enforcement notice banning other uses.

It ordered her to remove a “dining platform”, an area of decking with a marquee which it says was built without consent, and tear down a wall of hay bales which she erected as a sound barrier.

The council argued the breaches were harming the Chilterns Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, disturbing residents due to the noise and artificial light and causing a road safety hazard because of the numbers of guests attending.

But Mrs Holley, who bought the seven-bedroom property with her husband Tim in 2000, says the complaints are “unreasonable” and the celebrations are covered by the consent she was granted in 2002 for “leisure and assembly” purposes. Speaking at a virtual public inquiry last week, she said her guests behaved responsibly and didn’t make noise and that some neighbours supported the weddings.

She argued that the parties were “incidental” to the main use of the property, which also has a two-bedroom barn and an adjacent three-bedroom cottage for holiday lets.

She said the “dining platform” should stay because it was used for other things so the notice was wrongly worded.

Mrs Holley argued the council didn’t serve its notices correctly, misspelling her address and in any case she was immune from enforcement action as the “leisure and assembly” use had been going for more than a decade.

She said it would be unreasonable to have to stop trading as it would have a “disproportionately negative” financial impact if she couldn’t honour existing bookings.

She first let the main house in 2003 and moved into the cottage four years later when Mr Holley fell ill.

Rentals increased and guests told Mrs Holley it would be a good wedding venue so she obtained a licence to hold ceremonies from Oxfordshire County Council in 2016.

She said 120 guests made no more noise than 20 if they were well-behaved.

Mrs Holley said: “It’s not a ‘party house’. I really object to the fact that the council says we advertise it as that — we absolutely don’t. It is a ‘home from home’ and I would not wish to attract people who are celebrating in that way. It is a place for families to do the things that families do together.

“Twenty people could make a great deal of noise, particularly if the World Cup is on, [but] we don’t allow people that we know are going to do that, like hen or stag groups.

“We take a security deposit and if you are disruptive or make a noise, you lose some of it. We’ve only done that on one occasion.”

Sarah Clover, representing Mrs Holley, said that Mr Holley was an “elderly and frail man” who wouldn’t encourage events that interrupted his sleep.

The complaints stemmed from just two incidents where shouting and screaming were reported between 10pm and midnight, she said.

The council says it first investigated neighbours’ complaints in September 2018. It issued a noise abatement notice which Mrs Holley failed to obey and she is to be prosecuted for this. It says the weddings and parties wouldn’t be given permission if she applied because the planning conditions needed to prevent disturbance, such as a ban on loud noise after 10pm and no use of the grounds after 9pm, which would deter potential customers.

Cain Ormondroyd, for the council, said: “Holiday letting can continue in line with a lawful residential use. That has clearly gone on for some time without complaints before the problems started. It is the weddings, events and party house lettings that must stop.

“It is true that policy is supportive of rural enterprise but that support has limits. Development must respect the character of the rural area… the use here does not respect the AONB and brings with it intrusive development.

“There can be no dispute that the existing use has caused a problem. I defy anyone to read the noise diaries of the neighbours and conclude there has been no amenity impact.”

In a report presented at the hearing, a council officer said: “Only a very limited and unnatural form of wedding or party venue could function without triggering enforcement action.”

Planning inspector Paul Dignan, who oversaw the inquiry, will make a decision later.

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