Couple's country seat into a wedding venue in fight with locals

Couple's country seat into a wedding venue in fight with locals

Former banker who held ‘raucous’ weddings on £3M country estate without planning permission is embroiled in bitter row with locals over ‘blasting Sweet Home Alabama’ and ‘intolerable Blackpool-style lights’

  • Joe and Keeley Evans opened wedding venue at on their land in Herefordshire
  • Spent £3m building events complex Crumplebury over the course of a year
  • Website boasted of ‘raucous’ celebrations, fine dining, ‘hang-over Bloody Marys’ 
  • Held first function in November 2019 after pre-selling events worth £1m 
  • Sparked complaints from neighbours of ‘devastating’ and ‘life changing’ noise
  • One said: ‘At night, it’s lit up like a cruise liner or a nuclear power station’
  • Added: ‘The first wedding they held we could hear every single word of Sweet Home Alabama blasting out across the valley’

Local villagers have revealed their ‘devastation’ over a planning row which erupted with a former high flying banker who transformed his country seat into a luxury £3 million wedding venue.

Green Cow founders Joe and Keeley Evans, from Herefordshire, spent £3m building a luxury events complex on their 1,500-acre Whitbourne Estate, and marketed the venue a year as a space for weddings, art exhibitions, wellness retreats and parties.

The website for Crumplebury, 1.5 miles from Whitbourne village, advertised ‘raucous’ woodland celebrations, fine dining and ‘hang-over Bloody Marys’, with the venue pre-selling events and weddings worth £1m before it opened in November 2019.

But within a fortnight of the first event, the couple were targeted with noise complaints from neighbours – living around 400metres away – who complained of ‘devastating’ and ‘life changing’ noise, ‘traffic chaos’ and ‘loud, amplified music.’

In November 2020, Herefordshire Council rejected an application to change the planning permisison to allow the venue to be used for weddings. 

Although celebrations are on hold because of the pandemic, the venue has a number of pre-bookings from 2020, which have been moved to 2021 and the couple could fulfil the bookings while appealing the decision. 

Local villagers in Herefordshire have revealed their ‘devastation’ over a planning row which erupted with former high flying banker Joe Evans and his wife Keeley after they transformed his country seat into a luxury £3 million wedding venue

The £3 million Crumplebury venue is just a short distance from the nearest homes, as well as a local village 

The 1,500-acre Whitbourne Estate, near Bromyard on the Herefordshire-Worcestershire border, has been privately owned by Mr Evans’ family since 1860, and was built by vinegar magnate Edward Bickerton Evans.

The former country seat of the world’s largest vinegar manufacturer, the historic estate enjoyed a harmonious rapport with its neighbours in a green and tranquil corner of rural Herefordshire.  

Its grand Palladian-style hall – known locally as ‘Vinegar Hall’ – was sold to developers in the 1980s, with the family retaining the remainder of the estate for mixed retail, farming and recreational use.

Whitbourne’s Longlands Care Farm school caters to vulnerable youngsters excluded from mainstream education, and hosted a visit from the Princess Royal, Princess Anne, in 2017 in recognition of two long-serving Riding for the Disabled ponies.

The website for Crumplebury advertised ‘raucous’ woodland celebrations, fine dining and ‘hang-over Bloody Marys’, with the venue pre-selling events and weddings worth £1m before it opened in November 2019

Mr Evans – who is chair of the local Country Land and Business Association Branch – returned to the family home in 2011 after a high-flying overseas career in corporate banking with HSBC, a position which took him and then girlfriend Keeley to Jersey, India and the Philippines.

The couple set about modernising and diversifying the estate, taking over from Mr Evans’ father Bill, and in 2012 they transformed a disused pigsty into the Green Cow restaurant, initially to cater to pheasant hunting parties attending the Whitbourne Shoot.

But their ambitions didn’t end there and the couple secured planning permission to realise Crumplebury, borrowing £3m against Whitbourne’ assets for the building project.

Speaking to Living Magazine about their plans in 2018, Mr Evans said: ‘I wouldn’t say I am a chilled person, but I am confident. 

The couple secured planning permission for ‘a restaurant, accommodation and a conference centre and for no other purpose,’ to realise Crumplebury, borrowing £3m against Whitbourne’ assets for the building project

‘One of the advantages of having been a banker is that I’m not afraid to borrow sums that would leave other people ashen-faced. I have done the sums.’ 

However, despite a clause in Mr Evans’ planning agreement stating that the venue could be used for ‘restaurant, accommodation and a conference centre and for no other purpose,’ it appears that he believed weddings and other events would be allowed.

The state-of-the-art venue comprises a grand banqueting hall for 200, a lounge, bar, gallery, eleven bedrooms and a private cottage.

It opened in November 2019 after pre-selling events and weddings worth £1m – but within a fortnight was targeted with noise complaints.      

The couple’s state-of-the-art venue comprises a grand banqueting hall for 200, a lounge, bar, gallery, eleven bedrooms and a private cottage (pictured, during building) 

Retired fencing contractor Nick Bakewell, 70, and wife Jan have lived in their three bedroom cottage overlooking Whitbourne for thirty years.

He explained: ‘This is a beautifully quiet place, but the noise from Crumplebury was horrendous. 

‘The first function was chaotic. There were cars going in and out, and up and down the lanes. 

‘The whole site was lit up like Blackpool illuminations, and Joe Evans had the audacity to turn around and tell us it wasn’t too bad.’

Locals have said the first events at the venue were ‘chaotic’, calling the noise ‘horrendous’ and comparing the site to ‘like Blackpool illuminations’ 

He continued: ‘Crumplebury was never intended to be a wedding venue, and on that basis the original planning application sailed through without objection.

‘The reality is that Joe Evans didn’t have planning permission for the functions he was advertising. He’s fallen out with everyone.’

Another Whitbourne local said: ‘They’ve got 1,500 acres, but for some inexplicable reason they chose to perch this development on the furthest edge of the estate, pointing towards our community.

Another neighbour said the venue was ‘on the furthest edge of the estate’ and ‘pointed towards’ the local community 

‘At night, it’s lit up like a cruise liner or a nuclear power station.

‘There was never any mention of weddings in the original planning application, but the first one they held we could hear every single word of Sweet Home Alabama blasting out across the valley.

‘I burst into tears and told my husband ,”We’re going to have to move”. It was intolerable. I can’t tell you how shocked we were.

‘All hell broke loose. At that point, villagers contacted planning enforcement and environmental health.

Nick Bakewell, 70, and wife Jan have lived in their three bedroom cottage overlooking Whitbourne for thirty years

HCC planners advised Mr and Mrs Evans to apply to have the restrictive clause in their agreement removed – but villagers hired a barrister to represent their worries.

The application was met with dozens of objections, including representatives of the National Trust and the Council for the Protection of Rural England.

A written submission from Whitbourne Parish Council cited neighbours’ concerns about ‘post party outside noise – laughing, shouting and car doors slamming, and added: ‘The applicants are heavily advertising the facility as a wedding venue for up to 250 guests and they also encourage ‘raucous’ celebrations on their web-site.’

He said the neighbourhood is usually ‘beautiful and quiet’ but compared the first events held at the site to ‘like Blackpool illuminations’

Mr and Mrs Evans spent £12,000 installing and testing an ‘acoustic curtain’ to try to address noise concerns.

Planning officers backed their application to allow weddings and parties at Crumplebury, but councillors sitting on HCC’s planning committee voted against it.

The couple have been told they must abide by their original planning permissions – and may only use the site for business conferences. 

They said: ‘We are devastated by the decision made by Herefordshire Council’s planning committee.

Nick said the local couples would ‘fight’ Joe and Keeley ‘every step of the way’ if the couple appeal against a decision made by local councillors not to grant them planning permission  for weddings at the site 

‘We have worked round the clock to create a sustainable space which is both aesthetically beautiful and environmentally sympathetic. 

‘It is crushing to face such opposition. This is our community, and we care deeply about it.’ 

The couple have now removed references to weddings on the website and are planning to appeal the decision. 

They declined an interview but said in a statement: ‘We were simply seeking approval to operate within the parameters of our site description, which was granted planning permission in 2017.

‘We strive for Crumplebury to be a force for good and have worked tirelessly to address head-on any concerns raised by the community.’

Mr Bakewell added: ‘We are biding our time and waiting to see what their next move is. If they appeal, we shall fight them every step of the way.’ 

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