On the 26th March 2015, 14 months after we first started the application process, we were granted full planning for our plans to progress forwards as a wedding venue on 20 occasions in a calender year! This has been a long, painful and arduous journey, with some incredibly personal and nasty objections being put forwards by several of our neighbours.
The council hearing includes a time for objectors, supporters, and the applicants to all have 2 minutes to speak, and effectively plead their case with the Councillors. Listening to the comments of the objectors, followed by their cheering, hooting and enthusiastic applause (behaviour like this is really frowned upon in such a hearing) was a tough moment, which left me quaking in my boots a little before making a prepared speech which the family had all read and approved beforehand.
The next step in the process is for the Councillors to debate the application, they can comment, ask questions, and also voice their own opinions. The whole process is controlled by the Chairperson, and all comments can be heard by the public.
The comments began and personally I felt it could have gone either way, with a lot of questions focused around cars, traffic and parking, however within a few minutes it became clear that they were largely in favour of our plans.
The point then came for the Councillors to raise their hand, in support, or against the application, thus deciding our fate! The call came for 'all those in favour'.... and would you believe it, every single hand went up in support of our application, we were successful with a unanimous vote by the local Councillors.
What a moment, followed by much hugging (yes a few tears) and several bottles to celebrate our success - when you have worked so hard and so long on one single project it really is important to take the time out to celebrate these key moments.
Onwards and upwards we now charge, with a civil ceremony licence application, and a premises alcohol application both top of the list!
So it's official, the third and final planning application is now live, and this is told to the world by the prominent display of a yellow laminated sign at the bottom of the driveway. In addition everyone who has previously commented on past applications will have been notified that we have withdrawn the old application, I expect also leading to the notification that we are back in planning, again!
Throughout this process we have seen those who are avidly against our plans object strongly, several support strongly, and many say that they really just don't mind what we are doing.... If I recall correctly the ratio of objectors at the last outing represented a total of 2.5% of the local community.
Those who pass comment verbally that they don't really mind what we do, and in some cases even say what a good idea it is, often don't think it's worth logging on to air their views in a public manner. However, the consequence of no action is that the negatives become so much more overpowering and the case 'for' can easily be overwhelmed by the public case being made against.
Human nature is often to take the easy path, and doing nothing is always the easiest route by far! But when you are tackling something as large as a place like this then support from those around you is absolutely invaluable. Word of mouth as to how good your services are is a good example of such support, and so much of our business thus far has come via word of mouth referrals, on both the James Place and Penton Park front....
We genuinely and passionately believe that the path we are on is the right one for Penton Lodge, we care about keeping the house open to the disabled community via James's Place and we also believe that it is a house absolutely suitable for hosting parties and events.
Several objections on previous versions of our application, have cited James Place as failing, yet those objectors have never once asked about the attendance levels at our day care centre. Others have said how detrimental the events are to our members, yet they have never talked to our members and asked them what they think, and whilst they may have a learning or physical disability this doesn't mean they don't have a worthy opinion of their own.
At the moment the supporters are winning out with a 3-1 ratio in favor which is a rather enjoyable position to be in, however i'm sure it won't be too long until some familiar names lodge some familiar comments!
If you are interested in tracking the application to see what all the fuss is about then you can do so by clicking here and entering our planning reference which is: 14/02418/FULLN
When I reached this stage in my life I thought i'd be facing the challenges of keeping an air of calm when trying to negotiate with the logic of a toddler (for those without children the trick is that there is no logic). However, I find myself trying to muster the energy to battle through a list of objections to my husband’s family homes planning. Each time I log on to the online planning portal I wonder how many more we will have received (8 households objecting, and 11 individuals at present in case you wondered - representing around 2.5% of the population of our village based on the number of homes).
Now whilst there are some that present worthy questions, which we have tried to address, there are a few which really and truly make me feel most welcome in the village we call home, my top two:
1. "If the residents of Penton Lodge cannot afford to maintain it as it stands, with more than generous allowances for activities beyond private dwelling and as a school, then they should sell" Mr and Mrs Patterson of Fairfield, Newbury Hill
I wonder if it has been considered that the vast number of properties such as ours frequently have to find a commercial path to a sustainable future, and I wonder if this view is one maintained for all proprerties countrywide?
Do the Earl and Countess of Carnarvon, who reside up the road at Highclere Castle fall into the same category with the fabulous feature of Downton Abbey, plus numerous other events, and, yes you've guessed it, Weddings. It is worth bearing in mind that Penton Lodge has had a commerical use since the mid 1940's. I wonder if Mr and Mrs Patterson watch Downton Abbey, or visit with friends for a tour of this beautiful castle, or perhaps they attend the Battle of the Proms night that they hold each year?
I note that Mr and Mrs Patterson actually attended our own Proms in 2014 where they danced the night away in the second row from the front, we hosted this for little commercial gain, and more for a chance for the village to enjoy an event in our beautiful grounds. Interesting that in their objection, available on the link below they comment that there were two extremely loud events one that was "loud in [their] house and obviously and almost painfully loud in the grounds of Penton Lodge, enough to make conversation very difficult and a matter of shouting - clearly the organisers have no consideration for local residents"
I assume this is referring to the Proms, as it was the only event in the grounds, now I simply must figure out how to upload those pictures of them dancing throughout the event, I only wish we were in a court of law as i'm sure even a novice barrister would have a jolly old time discrediting this witness from the stand!
Next time perhaps they should move further back so the music isn't so objectionably loud?
2. "I believe that Penton Lodge stands at a point in its immensely long history when it requires our responsible care and protection. To allow it to be altered in order to accommodate a third commercial use will result in the loss of the invaluable character and appearance of this grade II listed building. This important part of the conservation area and existing rural scenic views, that we so admire and enjoy, will be lost for us and future generations" Ms Pauffley of The Smithy goes so far as to say that our application will be "to the lasting detriment of the house, the village, and the conservation area, if this proposal is not challenged and turned down"
I note that Ms Pauffley made no offer to buy the property when it was for considered for sale in 2009 (my husbands family kept it in the end, as the recession dealt us a twist of fate for which I think we will be eternally grateful) nor did she offer any "responsible care and protection" when this house was in so dire need and on the open market.... but we did... and isn't she lucky that we did? It might have actually fallen down (the 20ft listing chimney had the true potential to take out a third of the building) and then there wouldn't have been any weddings to worry about, let alone twenty in a calender year.
It is mine and my husband’s children who are the future of this house, we are raising them here and it is here that they will grow into adults. Being brought up understanding the lifestyle and compromises they will have to make to keep a house like this alive means that I rest easy in my bed at night knowing that this important piece of history is indeed preserved for us and future generations.
There are too many comments for me to continue without risk of boring the socks off any reader, and I must prepare for our meeting with the planners on Thursday. But know this, contrary to the objectors, James's Place is thriving (no one ever asked for the facts, but some have assumed our day care is failing), we have nothing but the best interests of our home in mind, and we will succeed in saving this house and yes that will be via a commercial use on the ground floor.
Perhaps we should give up on the whole idea of twenty weddings, maybe we should open for the residential educational rehabilitation of drug addicts and young offenders (readers should note that this is permitted in our current planning zone). I'm not sure our friendly neighbours have considered this path for our home, but if they really don't want weddings..... As one person said in the parish council meeting "better the devil you know".
Thank you to the photographers whose photos have been featured, we love their work! Emma Moore Photography, Gyan Gurung Photography, Graham Warrellow, Helen Power Photography, Joanna Cleeve Photography, Julia Conway Photography, Kate Gary Photography, LaHu Studios, Lemontree Photography, Lydia Stamps Photography, Mia Photography, Peter Dyer Photography Ltd, Tansley Photography, Teresa C Photography, The Springles, This and That Photography.