Agenda item

Land West of The Sportsman, Main Road, Elm
Change of use of land for use as public house car park involving the formation of hardstanding, new lighting and the siting of a storage container (part retrospective)

To determine the application.


David Rowen presented the report to members.


Members received a written representation from Mr and Mrs Stewart, objectors to the proposal, read out by Member Services.


Mrs Stewart stated that it is not easy to complain to the Council about a neighbour, especially when it is a pub and extremely popular, but she feels that no one who has complained about pub noise has taken the decision lightly.  She expressed the view that on Easter Sunday 2019, The Sportsman decided to have live music with 2 speakers and an amplifier outside, which was exceedingly loud, and has carried on every Sunday or a Bank Holiday except for the August holiday.


Mrs Stewart stated that some neighbours have spoken to Environmental Health who advised that having a music license did not mean that you could be a public nuisance and to put the speakers inside, but at a Licensing Hearing the pub was allowed to have 6 of these events a year with speakers outside.  She expressed the view that when she brought her house she did not expect a car park to be built there and 15 trees have been removed in less than a year, which she did not imagine that this number of trees could be taken down as they live in a Conservation Area.


Mrs Stewart expressed the view that having loud music outside with many people singing along at the top of their voices has definitely changed the dynamics of the pub, especially with the younger ones being much louder now.  She stated that when she moved to Elm, The Sportsman held a music night once a month usually a disco until midnight with both doors closed, which she had no problem with, but the new owners have music twice a month along with outdoor music sessions, apart from during Covid, which makes for very noisy living.


Mrs Stewart made the point that the pub changed its alcohol licence in 2019 so they could serve alcohol from 8am every day and until 1am Thursday to Saturday.  She needs to know the car park opening times and it needs a proper acoustic fence as she feels sure the pub will still be having music events twice a month as they are well attended.


Mrs Stewart made the point that the car park has been used as a car park by staff and sometimes customers and asked how do we know that they will not carry on doing this and not put a fence up?  She stated that they are not just sitting complaining, they have put sound proofing in two windows, with another resident having triple glazed acoustic windows fitted in their house so they can hear their television.  She referred to another couple who have lived in Elm for 45 years and when they moved in the pub was derelict and no one has ever complained about the pub before until the new owners took over.


Mrs Stewart asked for some thought and understanding.


Mr Stewart made the point that there does not appear to be an arboricultural assessment as was requested by the Tree Officer in his report in January 2021, who stated that “as the construction will take place adjacent to trees protected by the Conservation Area, we require an arboricultural impact assessment and method statement for the proposed works.  This should also include a methodology for the placement of fence posts and any other works within the Root Protection Areas of the trees”.  The Tree Officer also stated “The proposed site plan also shows the planting of new trees along the west and south boundaries.  This should be extended to include the east boundary to ensure adequate screening.  New trees should be a minimum of 12/14cm girth to reduce the time frame for screening to establish, a maintenance programme for the trees will also be required”.


Mr Stewart expressed the view that none of the Tree Officer’s recommendations have been implemented, which is important to him as they were not overlooked before, especially when tree T2 was taken down even though it had a TPO.  He feels that apart from the proposed Silver Birch, the 10 proposed tree plantings of 40-60cm height will be inadequate as there are now only 6 trees left, which will take years to grow before offering any screening.


Mr Stewart asked why a qualified sound engineer has not visited the site and caried out a survey using their machines to find out exactly what fence and other measures are required to meet current legislations or if they have why it has not been submitted?  He referred to the last committee meeting where this application was submitted and that Councillor Cornwell stated that David Johnson must try his upmost to mitigate the noise as pub car parks are noisy.


Mr Stewart advised that he contacted an acoustic fence expert as he has not seen a picture of an acoustic fence with a separate gravel board on any acoustic fence website and he was told that an acoustic fence needs to be a complete solid panel not one that sits on a gravel board so that there is no chance of having a gap for noise to travel through and the bottom board should be buried about 50mm into the ground.  He expressed the view that the acoustic fence should also conform to BS EN 1793 and be fully tested and certified as a category B3 rated barrier, which is not shown on The English Brothers drawing supplied.


Mr Stewart expressed the opinion that, due to the close proximity of the nearby houses, it is imperative that a qualified sound engineer visits the site and proper acoustic fence panels manufactured.  He believes that the need for residents to protect themselves as if a sub-standard fence is erected, they would never get the chance of it being changed, which will impact negatively on their lives.


Members received a presentation, in accordance with the public participation procedure, from Mr Johnson, the applicant.


Mr Johnson advised that he was present mainly to answer any questions, but made the point that the pub has existed at least since 1829 as The Black Horse, which means it has been carrying out pub business, selling intoxicating liquors to people to be merry, have fun and occasionally make noise for over 180 years.  When he purchased his home, he stated that he left no stone unturned investigating the neighbouring properties and land, this included the possibility of developing the field behind and the possibility of re-routing the footpath, which is less than 50 yards from his house. 


Mr Johnson believes that all neighbouring parties that claim not to know that their land backed onto pub land and what it could mean to their properties in the future have fallen short of their due diligence and their complaints are severely weakened as a result of this and, in his view, any conveyancer should have highlighted this land as affecting potentially the land they were purchasing.  He feels that, as the pub has existed for over 180 years, it has moved with the times and needs to make another stride now.


Mr Johnson expressed the opinion that the neighbours who have always complained about parking issues are now championing that it has adequate parking.  He feels that common sense needs to apply to this situation as they transition to a food destination pub as they need more parking and it could be that the more food orientated clientele would be a quieter clientele than the lively wet pub they have been known for.


Mr Johnson expressed the view that to refuse the application would be stifling the potential business and made the point that he has not taken a single pound back out of the pub, which has yet to make a profit.  He expressed the opinion that this proposal will be a well-managed, highly specified car park and feels that he is only before committee as the previous owner allowed the beer garden to become derelict.


Members asked questions of Mr Johnson as follows:

·         Councillor Benney stated that he knows this pub as many years ago there used to be a disco there on a Thursday evening which he used to attend.  He has visited the site twice in relation to this proposal and asked when Mr Johnson took the pub over?  Mr Johnson advised he was not particularly good with dates, but it was in July 2017 or 2018. 

·         Councillor Benney expressed the view that the applicant has put a lot of money into the pub, you can see this by looking at it and the surrounding area, he likes to support local business as much as he can and asked if this is going to be a mainly food orientated pub or a fun pub?  Mr Johnson stated that when he purchased the pub, it was a wet pub and it has all changed as he does not know when a wet pub in a village will be viable if ever again, so it is a food pub and he is trying to develop it more and more as a food pub.  The pub does get people come outside when the sun shines to the picnic tables, and its trade has really built up on a Tuesday to Friday lunchtimes, with them doing 40-50 covers a day on a Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday lunchtime.  He stated that it is not a fun pub, but a village pub moving with the times and Covid has pushed them a lot quicker to where they are going to get to.

·         Councillor Benney asked whether the car park was going to be used for an outdoor entertainment area or only for car parking?  Mr Johnson stated that there has been so much nonsense about what this space is going to be used for, it is completely unserviceable from the toilets and bar and only really useful and possible as a car park where you go once to the pub and return to go home.  He made the point that staff could not be ferrying drinks and customers could not be nipping into the toilets as you can see from the plan customers have to come down Atkinson Lane and in through the front door all the way to the back of the pub to use the toilets and, in his view, it would not be viable.

·         Councillor Benney queried whether the car park was not linked to the pub other than the double gates at the front?  He asked for clarification that he would have to park, walk up the lane and enter the pub at the front?  Mr Johnson stated there is a footpath surrounding property, so customer would come out of gates along the footpath into the pub.  Councillor Benney queried whether a gate would be put in the fence from the pub into the car park and queried again that this area is purely for car parking and not for any entertainment purposes?  Mr Johnson stated that it is impossible, otherwise customers would have to walk through the pub’s kitchen, cellar or toilets, as there is no viable other route other than through the gates and in through the front of the pub.  He stated that there did used to be two accesses, but these were bricked up to build proper toilets, disabled and baby changing facilities and although you can access the car park through the dray yard, they are not going to invite customers to access their dray yard.

·         Councillor Mrs French referred to Mr Johnson stating that the property was built in 1859?  Mr Johnson stated that it was first listed as a pub in 1829.  Councillor Mrs French remembers around 15 years ago going to the pub as a member of the Licensing Committee due to neighbour complaints and there was a priest hole causing issues with noise from when discoes used to be held and asked if the pub has received any complaints from the neighbour that lives next door?  Mr Johnson explained that the next-door neighbour’s porch was a central part of a symmetrical building, with the pub being raised to the ground by fire and they half built the pub back in the 1700s as a forge and after this it became the pub, The Black Horse, and the house next door was Black House, so the priest hole was not originally a priest hole, but a void between what was original and what was built after the fire.  He stated, in reference to the neighbours, these are Kim and Craig Stewart and they complain about a lot about the value of their property which they brought at a discount as it is attached to a pub and the pub seems to be at fault for a lot of things.

·         Councillor Purser asked in order to have entertainment what you need is an electric power point and could Mr Johnson say that there would be no electric power point in the car park so entertainment could not be held there?  Mr Johnson stated that practically he cannot think what he would need power in this area for.

·         Councillor Sutton stated that it would be remiss of him not to be involved with this as a ward councillor, but he is in a difficult position in terms of supporting a local business against supporting local residents.  He saw on his site visit that there is log store and asked what the plans were for this?  Mr Johnson stated that the trees removed were logged on site and a lean to was put over them, with the plan being to burn them during the Winter.  He made the point that all trees were taken down correctly and none had TPOs, but a lot of logs were produced with a temporary lean to created to keep the logs dry.

·         Councillor Sutton asked if Mr Johnson understands the concerns of the residents as the proposal will be a change from the situation as it was and takes their concerns on board?  Mr Johnson stated that he accepts their concerns and has spoken to residents who want to engage, but made the point that residents cannot have rose tinted view of the derelict land, the trees were dangerous and he agreed with the Tree Officer what could come down, agreeing to retain one that he thought was dangerous and then it blew down in the next storm.  He expressed the view that it was not good land, it was rat infested and whilst the trees did provide some canopies, the land was anti-social with dens and it was huge liability for them to keep and maintain it safe, with all he has done is to get the land to a point that it is safe and create a blank canvass, which will help the pub prosper.

·         Councillor Sutton referred to one of the written representations making reference to the spilt acoustic fencing, he recognises that English Brothers have a good reputation for wood working, and in the event of this committee supporting the application, would Mr Johnson be willing or is it available to erect an entire panel.  Mr Johnson stated that when the fence was designed there were several factors in play one being that if the fence is as designed the panels can be made in English Brothers factory so they would get a much better-quality panel and if 2.4 metres tall they physically could not lift them as they would weigh too much.  He stated that they will seam them together as best as they can and English Brothers have made panels for the highways, with it aesthetically not being a gravel board just a change in direction. 

·         Councillor Benney asked, if the committee was mindful to approve the application, would he be prepared to put signs up asking customers to respect the neighbours and keep the noise down?  Mr Johnson stated that he would do this anyway as they want to be a premium village pub and doing things right is what he wants to do.

·         Councillor Mrs Mayor made the point that notices would be part of the licensing conditions and would be picked up here if there are any complaints.  She stated that he has had permission to remove 21 trees since 2017, which is an awful lot of trees, and asked if any new trees had been planted?  Mr Johnson stated that they have not planted anything as he has not got approval for a proposed scheme and he does not want to plant anything in the wrong place.  He acknowledged that it is a lot of trees that have been removed, but it goes back to how derelict and dangerous the site was, with conifers being immensely overgrown.  Councillor Mrs Mayor interjected that it does not say conifers, the site is within a Conservation Area and if the trees had, had TPOs he would not be allowed to remove them without replacing them.  Mr Johnson stated that there were no TPOs and there was a conifer hedge that had vastly overgrown.

·         Councillor Benney stated that he understands why Mr Johnson has not planted any trees as if he does not get permission for the land to be car park he may want to turn it into a woodland area.  He asked if Mr Johnson intends to plant around the edges to protect some of the residents that adjoin the site?  Mr Johnson stated that this is his intention, the aesthetic of the pub is important to him as he wants it to be a pleasing place to be and look and this transfers to the car park as the experience starts when you get out of your car.  He stated that he does have a planting scheme with a minimum number to plant and he also wants to put back a Silver Birch and put back some of what was there, but also better tree choices, which was the Tree Officer’s recommendation, but he just has not initiated planting yet.


Members asked questions, made comments and received responses as follows:

·         Councillor Benney stated that when this application had come before committee previously he had had his Covid vaccination two days before and was not feeling very clear.  In regard to the acoustic fencing, he has read the report that said the fencing would make a difference of between 10-15 decibels, with 10 decibels being a pin drop and 20 decibels a rustling of leaves and he feels that the expense of putting this fence up to save the noise of a pin drop is an expense too far.  He made the point that his home is opposite the leisure centre in Chatteris, with planning being about land usage, and if looking at the leisure centre today members would not be looking to turn it down due to loss of privacy and lights shining into residents’ houses.  Councillor Benney expressed the view that residents knew when they brought their houses that the pub was there and if you buy a house near a pub residents have to accept there will be noise.  He feels that all the fence is going to do is put a lot of expense on the applicant and the car park is not going to be in use every day, there is parking out the front and he feels sure that customers will use the front car park first.  Councillor Benney stated that he supports a local business, you get decent people going to a decent pub and he feels the applicant is running the pub in a decent way, is a responsible landlord and the pub looks like a nice establishment.  He expressed the opinion that whilst residents may not like a car park, the applicant could turn the land into something else, which could be worse.  Councillor Benney expressed the view that if the car park is not provided, cars could end up being parked on the roads all around the pub and car parking is an essential part of that business, with the village lucky to have a pub.  He feels it would be a travesty if members do not approve the application making the point that the Council gets criticised that it is not doing enough for business and this is giving the opportunity for a business to thrive.

·         Councillor Murphy stated that he had driven past this pub on many occasions and the front garden seems to be packed and it is a well-liked pub in the village.  He expressed the view that the Council should be helping businesses, which has occurred twice this afternoon, and the Council should not be stifling a business by not letting them have a car park.  Councillor Murphy expressed sympathy for the residents that live near the pub, but made the point that a pub will always have a bit of noise and if you have brought a house near it, it should be expected.

·         Councillor Mrs French made the point that there are 13 objectors and 63 supporters, which she feels speaks volumes.  She agreed that other businesses have been helped this afternoon and members should be supporting this business, with pubs having suffered due to Covid over the past 18 months.

·         Councillor Miscandlon stated that the acoustic fencing was raised at the previous committee meeting when this proposal was considered and the applicant was prepared to go away and investigate it.  He feels the applicant wants to be part of the village and the acoustic fencing is part of the protection for those residents in the village.  Councillor Miscandlon expressed the view that the acoustic fence is about reducing the upper end of noise that hurts your hearing to bring it down to an acceptable level.  He fully supports the proposal as it is as he feels the owner has done a great job to mitigate the problem that is perceived in the village and whilst it will cost him, it will benefit the applicant in the end by being a caring landlord.

·         Councillor Sutton stated that as the ward councillor he has residents who support and object to the proposal so it is a no win situation for him, but he feels the applicant has gone the extra mile by considering acoustic fencing.  He referred to the comments of one of the objectors, who stated that if there has to be a car park an acoustic fence needs to be put in place, and he feels that the acoustic fence would provide privacy and addresses the legitimate concerns of the objectors.  Councillor Sutton stated that he is on the committee to make a decision on what is best and he feels this proposal is the best solution.

·         Councillor Purser stated that he supported the proposal before and will be supporting it again as small businesses should be supported.

·         Councillor Mrs Mayor referred to the Tree Officer’s comments within the report regarding additional tree planting and hopes this will be instigated.

·         Councillor Benney suggested that the proposal be approved without the acoustic fencing.  Nick Harding responded that the acoustic fencing has been submitted as part of the application so members cannot approve a proposal that excludes it.


Proposed by Councillor Benney, seconded by Councillor Mrs French and agreed that the application be APPROVED against officer’s recommendation, with authority delegated to officers in consultation with the Chairman, proposer and seconder to determine conditions, which includes a planting scheme.


Members do not support officer’s recommendation of refusal of planning permission as they feel that the benefits of the business and wider community outweigh policy, the proposal will not adversely impact on the amenity of neighbours as the car park will not be used on a 24-hour basis and tree planting will improve the privacy for neighbours.


(Councillor Sutton declared that he had received e-mail from residents on this application asking for advice on who to approach with their concerns)

Supporting documents: