Melbourne Hall: Stately home wins scaled-back events licence after noise and traffic concerns

Up to 30 events a year involving a maximum of 1,000 people can now be held at an historic Derbyshire stately home, despite strong concerns about noise and traffic. At a South Derbyshire District Council licensing hearing today (April 5), Melbourne Hall was granted a premises licence but was forced to scale back its original event programme.

Melbourne Hall, through seasoned licensee Roger Lowe, had applied for permission to host up to 42 events a year between April and October, with no more than seven event days each month and no more than four consecutive days of events. However, after extensive concerns raised by residents fearful of the impact of noise on a rural mediaeval town of around 6,000, the licensing panel agreed to scale back the allowed number of events from 42 to 30.

This followed a suggested compromise from Mr Lowe to scale back to 30-35 events a year. He said the figure of 1,000 people being the maximum capacity at each event was the lowest it could be brought down to in order to maintain a viable profit.

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The venue will also have to publicly display a contact mobile number for making noise complaints and keep a log of all calls and issues raised. A total of 15 objection letters were submitted to the council by residents living near the site who oppose the plans. Nine opposing residents were present in the council chamber during the hearing.

Mr Lowe claimed that there were residents in favour of the plans and that this possibly outweighed the level of opposition, but no support letters were submitted and there were no members of the public at the hearing showing support for the licence. He said the venue will keep noise under a set maximum of 80 decibels, which is around the same level of noise as a hairdryer.

Carolyn Crocker, who moved to Melbourne 15 years ago, said the small town already faces noise issues from East Midlands Airport and from Donington Park and that noise from both was “very intrusive”. She claimed the plans would have a “huge impact on life in Melbourne” and would mean residents would not be able to use their gardens in peace.

Meanwhile, she said traffic issues would worsen through the venue’s plans and are already “unacceptable and unsafe”. She said the plans have made residents feel “quite desperate” and claimed Melbourne Hall sought to make profits “at the expense of the Melbourne people”.

John Williams, an objecting resident who lives 100 yards from the venue, said opposition focused on all those who live around the site itself “in the mediaeval bit, the pressured, cramped bit”. He said the area adjacent to the hall was the highest concentration of listed buildings, from Grade-I to Grade-II*, in the whole of South Derbyshire, “and yet it is the area most affected”.

Mr Williams said: “We have no objections with Melbourne Hall wanting to make its estate pay but it is the volume and impact which we object to. We are not NIMBYs, we want to support rural progress but the volume to where we can never sleep and never relax…it is improper. I do not want to live with an inescapable volume around me of traffic noise and litter.”

Michael Fritchley, who lives in nearby Penn Lane, says he would have large amounts of people walking and driving under an archway, which forms part of his home, to attend events at the hall. He said: “The proposed volume is disproportionate to the area and environment you are intruding into.”

Mr Fritchley said guests would park on residential streets instead of in assigned car parks and that congestion could block access for emergency vehicles.

Mr Lowe said marshals would be stationed around the venue to advise on the best places to park and the best ways to exit the venue without causing disturbances. He said management plans for each event at the hall, which would be shared with the council and police in advance, would mitigate noise and parking issues.

Dot Devey-Smith, speaking against the application, said that “with rights come responsibilities” and that in a community of 6,000 people, 1,000 was a large number of guests and staff to attend events. She said the Melbourne Hall management were “not being good neighbours” and that the venue’s plans would create a “statutory nuisance”, which was “grossly unfair”.

Mrs Devey-Smith urged the venue to find another location for its events and that as “good citizens” they should not “inhibit the rights of others”. Joanne Hill, who lives in Blackwell Lane, said the hall and its surrounding area were a “jewel in the crown of South Derbyshire” which had a level of respect in the community.

She said the National Trust protects a so-called Spirit of Place for areas it does not own but values and that this spirit was being “seriously eroded” in Melbourne. Mrs Hill said Melbourne Hall was looking to become the “party venue of South Derbyshire” and she wanted to limit events to one or two a year.

Mr Lowe said some residents had vowed to “object to everything we do now, as a matter of course”. He said the number of events proposed was “sustainable” and that compromise needed to be a two-way street.

Mr Lowe said a company of off-duty fire and first-aid officers would be recruited to act as marshals around the event and surrounding streets to keep noise and disruption to a minimum. A noise management consultant would be on shift at all events to respond to concerns and carry out noise checks, he said.

Mr Lowe said that at last summer’s events, which involved 400 guests, there were just 12 cars in the assigned car parks and most guests were from the local area so could walk. He said he felt 42 events was reasonable but could compromise to 30-35.

Mr Lowe said that no fewer than 1,000 guests and staff would be viable due to the “calibre of acts we are attracting” and due to extensive setup costs in the walled garden, which does not have power, water or a bar. He said he is aware of noise concerns being raised last year but claimed he was also aware of nearby residents who were not disrupted.

Roger Lowe, applicant for Melbourne Hall's premises licence, pictured at today's hearing
Roger Lowe, applicant for Melbourne Hall’s premises licence, pictured at today’s hearing.

Mr Lowe said: “Similar numbers, if not more people, said the exact opposite.” He said due to the “strength of feeling” from concerned residents, he was going to be staffing and putting in place mitigation measures fit for an event involving 5,000 people, despite only hosting a maximum of 1,000.

Mr Lowe said: “We are aware of the impact we can have on a village of 6,000 people, but we do know there are people in favour of what we are planning. The profile of events we have chosen have been chosen carefully and are people who are more likely to be receptive to advice.

“We are not envisaging an 18-25 audience, and we have purposely not chosen bass music events because it would effectively turn the walled garden into a drum.” Mr Lowe said he is planning for eight music-led events a year and that “we are not going to produce any more noise than we did last year”.

The council said it balanced the interests of the residents and applicant and felt the concerns over noise could be met through conditions, the event management plan, and by restricting the number of events. Speaking to the Local Democracy Reporting Service, Mr Lowe said: “I am pleased with the outcome, I feel the amendment is fair. We look forward to the summer of events.”

John Williams told the LDRS: “It is a partial victory to thin it down. Melbourne has taken 1,000 years to become what it has become, and if you put something in like this, you have to make damn sure you are not damaging it.

“We are protecting it from the excesses. Time after time our community is swamped and we are trying to protect it. It is our home.”

The venue would be allowed to play music and sell alcohol every day of the week from 9am until 10.30pm. It has agreed to host no more than seven event days each month and no more than four consecutive days of events.

There will be a “challenge 25” policy for alcohol and those who are deemed too intoxicated may be cut off from further alcohol or ejected. Mr Lowe says there would be a “drug amnesty box” “where persons attending the festival will be invited to voluntarily surrender any illegal substances or legal highs that they may have in their possession”.