Evoking a ‘beauty and the beast’ moment, a disused barn in the Cambridgeshire countryside has been transformed into an eight-bedroom, four-bathroom, luxurious Airbnb with peak holiday prices of over £1,000 a night.
But not everyone is happy, especially neighbour Ed Beswick who knew the barn had permission to become a two, and then a four-bedroom home.
But never in his wildest dreams did he imagine it had been turned into a top end Airbnb capable of hosting up to 18 people for short breaks.
“And Fenland District Council had no idea what had been built behind their backs,” he said.
The council is now sifting various permissions for Wildflower Barn in Stocking Drove, Chatteris, and its considering what, if anything, it can or should do.
“Thank you for getting in touch,” a council spokesperson told me.
“I’ve spoken to our planning enforcement officers and can confirm that Fenland District Council is aware of the property and a potential breach of planning control, but it would not be appropriate to comment any further at this time.”
Wildflower Barn was, until only a couple of years ago, derelict but, as estate agents would confirm, had “potential”.
That was realised by owners PJ Lee of Ely who put forward proposals to convert it to a two-bedroom single level home, later adding two further bedrooms, also approved, by converting a car port.
It has been acquired by C Properties Ltd, a St Ives based company run by Steve Train.
And it’s a hand on business with the Airbnb being advertised as “barn hosted by Steve’ with guests able to choose from one king size with en suite, 1 double with en suite, 2 doubles sharing a jack and Jill bathroom and 2singles with pull outs, making 2 large beds.
Additionally, it offers log cabin sleeping quarters, 2 doubles, a single with pull out mattress
/day bed, a shower toilet and also two small sofa beds inside the barn.
Checks on Airbnb website reflect fluctuating price rates but a four-day break later in August, for example, would cost £4,853.
“Wildflower barn is a magnificent retreat nestled just 6 miles from the charming city of Ely in Cambridgeshire,” says the advertisement, although it actually twice that distance from the city.
It promises, however, that once you step over the threshold “you’ll be immediately captivated by the exquisite design and attention to detail throughout the property.
“The barn has been beautifully renovated, blending traditional elements with modern comforts. The expansive windows invite abundant natural light, allowing you to bask in the panoramic views of the picturesque Cambridgeshire countryside.
“The bedrooms are elegantly appointed, each offering a tranquil sanctuary for a restful night’s sleep. Crisp linens, plush bedding, and stylish decor create an atmosphere of serenity and relaxation.
“The bathrooms feature sleek fixtures and luxurious amenities, ensuring your comfort and rejuvenation during your stay.”
It promises an “outdoor oasis; step outside to discover a private swimming pool, perfect for a refreshing dip on warm summer days.
“Adjacent to the pool, a soothing hot tub beckons you to unwind and indulge in blissful relaxation. Whether you’re soaking up the sun or stargazing in the evening, the outdoor area provides the perfect backdrop for unforgettable moments with friends.”
Mr Beswick is not impressed.
“Stocking Drove in Chatteris has always been known as a place for townsfolk to enjoy a stroll, run or cycle with the family on a lovely summer’s day, it being safe, easily accessible to the town and enjoyed by many for its peace and quiet,” he said.
“However, four weeks ago residents were disturbed by the beat of weekend party music into the early hours, lost cars u-turning in driveways causing security concerns and screaming of children during the day.”
He said it then transpired that “Wildflower Barn, a ruined barn that has planning permission to be converted into a 4-bedroom residential home has, it seems, been developed into a purpose built “Party Barn” business and is advertising itself on Airbnb as sleeping 18”.
He said courtyard wall hides a pool and “summer room” and claims both were built without planning permission.
“The barn was meant to be developed into 4 bed residential property, so neighbours were surprised when the ad appeared online and party guests started arriving,” he said.
“Concern has been raised with Fenland District Council; I’m waiting to see how they deal with the planning breach before taking further legal advice.”
He added: “When occupied, the ‘party barn’ effectively doubles the population of the Drove, which is causing fluctuations in the power supply and Anglian Water were reporting after several residents of the Drove complained of sudden low water pressure at weekends.”
Mr Beswick said local councillors had been approached for support and he was “looking forward to hearing from those not sitting on the planning committee”.
One recent, undecided, application for planning permission would allow for agricultural land adjacent to the barn to be turned into a residential garden, the erection of a garden room and relocation of the vehicle access. The application says it is part-retrospective.
Another neighbour, Stephen Mugford, has lodged his objection to Fenland planners.
“We do not object to the original 4 bed house planning permission, however, we note that additional unplanned building works have been undertaken to expand the property beyond the original approved plans,” he said.
“We were concerned to see the property has been advertised on Airbnb as a “stunning 8 Bedroom, 4-bathroom, barn conversion for 16+ guests at a significant weekly cost (with pictures of property and swimming pool),” he said.
“It appears as though the original intention was to develop the property as a business asset, expanding beyond planning remit and to obtain retrospective planning approval.
“The new ‘garden room’ may be additional accommodation for paying guests. Since planning rules may have been voided, we object to the retrospective planning changes.
“We are also very concerned that large uncontrolled house parties could also impact the environment, particularly noise and potentially our security.
“We note that planning approval for a different business along Stocking Drove was previously rejected.”
Correspondence from the planning department on the public portal shows a visit from a development officer from Fenland Council.
The officer notes they had a few queries for the barn’s owners.
“Firstly, it appears that the amendments proposed under this application have already commenced,” the officer wrote.
“Have these works been completed? We will need to reference that the development is part-retrospective/retrospective within the proposal description.
“Also, I note that a structure/building has been erected within the south-east corner of the courtyard area – please could the use of this building be clarified and detailed on the site plan as well as relevant elevations and floor plan drawings as this building appears to be situated outside of the previously approved residential amenity space.
“This building will also needed to be referenced in the description of development.”
But early customers are giving great feedback for the new Airbnb.
One family said they came together for four days in July “and when we first stumbled upon this place it seemed almost too good to be true. There must be a catch!
“But everything was as perfect as it seemed online.
“The barn has a perfect Kitchen that is a brilliant place for all the family to enjoy and entertain. It contains everything one requires. Decor throughout the barn has a cosy and homely feel.
“Location is incredible, completely private. The heated pool was great as we had rain and windy weather throughout the weekend, kids were still in the pool. The temperature remained at a good level.”
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