The party could be over for a Borders hen night venue served with a planning enforcement notice by council officers following complaints from neighbours.
Mike Cameron, owner of Linton Lodge at West linton, has been renting out the 7,000sq ft property as a getaway destination for groups of 15 to 30 guests – offering a cinema room, spa, two outdoor hot tubs, pool table and gym – since 2008.
The 57-year-old, of West Linton, has renamed the lodge Greenloaning Mansion and charges groups up to £8,000 for a one-week stay there, even offering chauffeur services to and from Edinburgh in a black Bentley, white Maserati or blacked-out Range Rover.
However, that use of the house dozens of times annually – 35 times in 2017, for instance – had gone unnoticed by Scottish Borders Council until concerned neighbours began to complain about disturbances caused by rowdy hen parties.
In November, Mr Cameron received a notice from the council outlining its grievances, saying: “It appears to the council that a breach of planning control has occurred within the last 10 years
“In terms of the character of the property, the house, while having nine bedrooms, is advertised as being able to accommodate 15 to 30 guests, with the master bedroom being advertised with six double beds along with another of the bedrooms being advertised as having four double beds, which is not normally found in a residential property.
“The characteristic of the use, where guests are generally visiting for a short period of time, and the numbers of guests being accommodated, has led to an increase in late-night activity and disturbance.
“That use is having a detrimental impact on residential amenity, with regular reports of late-night disturbances being made to various council departments, including environmental health and the anti-social behaviour team, as well numerous complaints to Police Scotland.”
Mr Cameron has appealed to the Scottish Government’s department for planning and environmental appeals, saying that because the property has been hosting hen parties for over 10 years the council can no longer object to that change of use.
Acting on Mr Cameron’s behalf, Edinburgh-based legal firm MHD Law has submitted an appeal statement to the DPEA, and it reads: “It is alleged in the notice that a material change of use of the property has taken place.
“However, Mr Cameron has been using the property as accommodation for short-stay visitors since 2008 and so for over 10 years. In terms of the 1990 Town and Country Planning Act, no enforcement action may be taken by the local authority after the end of the period of 10 years beginning with the date of the breach.
“Mr Cameron therefore submits that the local authority is now barred from taking enforcement action, given that the use of the property as accommodation for short-stay visitors has been in place for more than the period of 10 years specified.
“The planning enforcement notice says that the use of the property for short-term visitor stays is having a detrimental impact on residential amenity.
“Mr Cameron had been made aware of neighbour complaints and so reasonably assumed that if he addressed the causes of activities giving rise to those complaints, he could reassure the council he was taking the matter seriously and minimising the impact of the behaviour complained of.”
The appeal statement outlines the steps Mr Cameron, also a director of Edinburgh’s Dominion Cinema, has taken to reduce the amount of noise created by party guests.
They include removing two hot tubs from the rear of the building and instead installing a new one in the spa, fitted with triple-glazing to minimise noise impact.
Mr Cameron also proposes removing a barbecue from the rear decking of the Peeblesshire property in an effort to stop groups of guests congregating outside.
He also suggests employing a night manager to monitor the property and sound levels between 11pm and 2am on Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays, giving the house’s four closest neighbours a direct line to raise any issues immediately.
However, the council is not backing down, and in its submission to the Scottish Government, council planning officers insist that because Mr Cameron still used the lodge as his main residence until 2009, the 10-year limitation on change-of-use enforcement has not come into effect yet.
Ron Kirk, the council’s managing solicitor, says: “By his own admission, as set out in his email to the council on September 13, 2018, the appellant confirms that the property was still being used as a main residence up to a period of time within 2009.
“The council respectfully submits that an uninterrupted period of use could not have been established whilst the property was still the appellant’s main residence and therefore the relevant trigger point for the 10-year period in terms of the town and country planning act was the date in 2009 when the material change of use commenced.
“It is acknowledged that the appellant has sought to address concerns surrounding the anti-social behaviour and the consequent effects this is having.
“It is the view of the council that these matter are not a relevant consideration in respect of this appeal given that the appellant has accepted use of the dwelling house for short-term commercial visitor accommodation is a breach of planning control.
“It is the position of the council that in order to remedy the breach of planning control in respect of an authorised use, the only available route is to cease the unauthorised use and revert the back to the established use.”
That means that if Mr Cameron’s appeal fails, he will have to cease offering the property for short-term lets.
Government’s planning officers will now make a site visit to Linton Lodge and are expected to issue their judgement by March next year.