Battle lines have been drawn over a bid to allow a wedding, holiday, and events venue in the Fens to serve alcohol at weekends till late and live music into the early hours. John Anker – a farmer and former owner of the Coates John Deere partnership – has applied to Fenland District Council for a premises licence for Old Chapel Farm at 102 Eldernell.
It has come a long way since planning permission was given in 2008 for a replacement house on the site.
Today it is a multi-purpose wedding and events venue with ancillary lodges and an Italian style garden function room offering capacity for 120 people and on-site accommodation for up to 30 guests.
But next Friday (October 27) it faces its biggest test with battle lines drawn up as owner Mr Anker must go before a licensing hearing at Fenland Council to win approval for his licence.
Andrea Anker is his partner in the business and is the proposed designated premises supervisor – and already has her personal licence.
Despite no other objections – including Cambridgeshire police – the application has split this tiny community.
The hearing will be told of 16 objections – the main concern raised in relation to “the noise nuisance the premises may cause and crime and disorder” – but will also learn of 15 letters of support”.
The committee will also be told that planning issues, referred to by some correspondents including Whittlesey town council, are not for them to consider.
A report to the committee says: “We have advised interested parties that where there is mention of approved planning permission or other concerns not relevant to the licensing objectives these comments cannot be taken into account by the panel because legislation does not allow for us to do so.”
One of those objecting is Cllr Chris Boden, leader of Fenland Council, also a county councillor for the area, and a town councillor.
“My primary concern about this application relates to noise nuisance late at night,” he says.
“The noise of amplified music can and does travel miles in the Fens, especially at night when the whole rural area is so peaceful.
“Having a late licence for music could impact hundreds if not thousands of people in the areas I represent on Fenland District Council: Coates, Eastrea and North-Eastern Whittlesey. If inclined towards granting a licence for these premises, I’d urge the licensing committee to restrict all music to finish at the very latest at 23:00 each evening.
Poor access but everyone will need a car
“The access by car to this site is very poor, yet virtually all customers and staff will need to use cars to access the site, as there is absolutely no public transport access.”
Noting that the venue can support 120 guests, he said: “The impact that that many people, accessing and leaving the venue, would have on residents living in Eldernell Road generally, and on the privately owned track leading to the venue in particular, can only be appreciated by visiting the location itself, and I’d urge members of the committee to do so.
“Having so many staff and visitor cars travelling along such a narrow road and track will be highly disruptive to the lives of local residents, especially when they are trying to sleep.
“I’d therefore ask, if the committee is inclined towards granting a licence, that the venue closes no later than 11pm each night, to give at least some limited protection to the residential amenity of properties nearby and on Eldernell Road.
“I would question whether the restricted access to the premises for staff plus 120 patrons makes this venue suitable to be licensed at all, but certainly not for a late licence. I am further concerned that a late licence up to 2am may make these rather unsuitably located premises a magnet for late night ‘casual’ drinkers who’d be unable to drink alcohol so late at any other licensed premises nearby.
“Restricting the sale of alcohol to 11pm would alleviate the danger of additional night time disturbance as patrons use the narrow track and road to exit the premises and gain access to the A605.”
Whittlesey town council has also objected, pointing out that “in open countryside such as this, the sound of late-night music can travel many miles and can annoy thousands of residents”.
11pm late enough says town council
The town council says that if any licence at all is granted, no music should be permitted, nor should any alcohol be permitted to be served, beyond 11pm each night, and that the premises should close no later than midnight each night.
The council added: “We would also like to make the following representations: The proposed operation of these licensed premises would have a significant effect on the current or any future residents of the residential premises at 88, 94, 120, 124 and 126 Eldernell Lane because of the numbers of people who would need to access and egress the proposed licensed premises by using the privately-owned track that runs outside their properties.
“This can only really be appreciated by visiting the site, which we would encourage the FDC licensing committee to do. The private track is not owned by the person seeking this proposed license.
The town council added: “The premises do not appear to have any planning permission to operate as a business. Is it appropriate for premises to be granted a license without consideration having previously been given, and planning permission having been granted, for any non-agricultural business use whatsoever of the premises?”
However, the letters of support clearly show many welcome this addition to the countryside.
“It’s clear to me that Old Chapel Farm has the power to not only provide a valuable service but also to ignite job creation in our locality,” says one.
“Our area would gain a vibrant, welcoming venue where residents and visitors alike can come together to celebrate special moments, creating cherished memories and enhancing the social fabric of our community.”
Another letter sent to the committee says: “I have known John Anker for more than 30 years and Mrs Andrea Anker for more than 15 years Mr Anker was the proprietor of our local restaurant/public house, The Three Horseshoes in Turves.
“Mr Anker ran a very successful establishment with a very good reputation for high quality food in the area As regards to the Italian Rooms; the sound attenuation is of the highest quality; we know this because I was there when it was installed.
No problem with noise pollution
“I have stood outside that venue when loud music has been played and feel there should be no problem with noise pollution.
“You will find very few venues of this calibre in the area which cater for families, weddings, celebration and events.”
Another says: “It is my strong belief that granting this licence holds the potential to make significant, positive contributions to our community.”
Mr Anker will also be buoyed by this testimony too.
“The Italian Garden Room is a magnificent building for wedding receptions, positioned with open countryside on three sides (no dwellings) and shrouded by many trees to the west side, with the closest dwelling being approximately 250 metres to the west behind the large trees and basically a whole field away.
“And the next dwelling is yet another whole field further, this is also set amongst large mature trees at a distance around 400 metres. The applicants are a very professional business family, who have enabled us to in turn grow our local business and expand our operations, therefore increase the number of staff we employ.
“Our staff have managed on behalf of the ‘Old Chapel Farm’ owners family two private birthday parties for the grandchildren, and three Christian weddings.
“The Cathedral International Church from London, has also celebrated two blessings of marriage, using our assistance and management skills. The Italian Garden Room is virtually a sound proof room. Our personal opinion is that maybe midnight is late enough in general on a weekend and possibly 11pm during the week.”
The committee will be told by officers that they can take one or more of the following steps as it considers appropriate for the promotion of the licensing objectives:
- a) to grant the application subject to such conditions as are consistent with the operating schedule accompanying the application, modified to such extent as the authority considers necessary for the promotion of the four licensing objectives, and any mandatory conditions which must be included in the licence.
- b) refuse the application.
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