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Threat to wedding business in Great Chart, Ashford, after council refuses planning permission

By Caitlin Webb, local democracy reporter

A wedding business created in a family home is under threat after a council unanimously rejected a planning application - after they had already held seven nuptials.

The Turner family converted their home into a "dream" wedding venue in September 2016 after their daughter, Jo, struggled to find a cheap and relaxed location for her special day.

After her successful nuptials, the family decided to launch a full wedding business - Oakwood Weddings - and have since hosted six weddings at a cabin near their home in ancient woodland in Great Chart, Ashford.

Jo and Keith Turner's wedding. Picture: N Photography
Jo and Keith Turner's wedding. Picture: N Photography

Yet their ambitions to host up to 15 weddings a year at the site have been dashed after an application to make their home a permanent venue was turned down amid complaints from neighbours about noise and traffic.

Residents in the rural outskirts of Ashford claim the venue is having a "significant personal impact" on their lives.

However the owners claim these accusations are "unfair" as the nearest neighbours have not raised any objections to their plans.

Jo Turner, whose husband Keith took her name on their wedding day, said: "When I was looking for venues for my wedding I couldn't get over how expensive it was and also how strict and rigid the day would be.

"I just wanted an affordable, relaxed option where there was no stress about when to wake up, when to cut the cake or anything like that and there didn't seem to be any around.

Jo and Keith Turner's wedding. Picture: N Photography
Jo and Keith Turner's wedding. Picture: N Photography
Jo and Keith Turner's wedding. Picture: N Photography
Jo and Keith Turner's wedding. Picture: N Photography
Jo and Keith Turner's wedding. Picture: N Photography
Jo and Keith Turner's wedding. Picture: N Photography

"So we just decided to have the wedding at home. We got married in the church then had a reception back home.

"It was just such a perfect day and I wanted to share that with other brides."

The Turners spent more than £100,000 on the venue in Etchden Road, building everything themselves with the hope of hosting 15 weddings each year between April and October.

Inspired by the ancient woodlands, the family built a wooden lodge, marquee and quirky treehouse for any lucky couple's big day.

What was once an abandoned traveller site was converted into a secluded wedding venue with a bar, indoor ceremony room and a light up dance floor.

However the future of their business has been thrown into doubt after their retrospective planning application received a unanimous refusal from councillors at Ashford Borough Council.

The family home being converted into a wedding venue in 2016
The family home being converted into a wedding venue in 2016

Mother of the bride Karen Turner said: "It is so frustrating and unfair, it's such a farce.

"None of the councillors went to the venue, except one and she said how great it is.

"The photos in the application were so old and didn't show what it looks like now it's all finished.

"We've spent two years and thousands of pounds making this place special and we've had such great feedback and made so many families happy.

"The neighbours next to us have never made any complaints.

The family home being converted into a wedding venue in 2016
The family home being converted into a wedding venue in 2016

"The last few years have changed our lives and made it an awful lot more complicated.

"We thought it was such a lovely idea at the beginning and wanted to bring some joy to people's lives.

"I'm sure it will all come out in the wash but it has been so stressful."

Gemma Sage, who lives in neighbouring Keepers Lodge, told the council how she would hear music at the property over her TV.

She said: "Already this venue has had a significant personal impact on me and my neighbours.

"We have had multiple disruptions where people are stopping at our properties asking for directions and the additional traffic the roads are incurring.

Jo and Keith Turner's wedding. Picture: N Photography
Jo and Keith Turner's wedding. Picture: N Photography

"The noise levels have been particularly distressing. On at least three occasions this summer I've had to move indoors with guests as I can hear the music and microphones in my garden and on one occasion the music was so loud I could hear it indoors over my TV."

She also raised concerns about the single-track entrance to the property, which is used by cyclists, horse riders and joggers.

Karen, who works as a Bach Flower practitioner, added her family had "taken all steps" to limit the impact to the woodland and its creatures, including untaking a fixed sound monitor survey.

Ward councillor Cllr Jessamy Blanford wrote to the planning committee how she believes "the site is most unlikely to be suitable for weddings".

She wrote: "With the amount of development taking place and planned for the Ashford borough, particularly close to Ashford, it is all the more important to protect woodland sites both for the trees themselves and the flora and fauna that have occupied the wood for centuries.

Jo and Keith Turner's wedding. Picture: N Photography
Jo and Keith Turner's wedding. Picture: N Photography

"The proposed site is set back into the woodland and not related to any other development.

"This might protect the human neighbours but will not protect other creatures living in the woodland.

"There are any number of sites for weddings and wedding receptions from expensive to economic in the area and the public would not be deprived by not having this venue.

"I know that some of the committee feel that humans should come before wildlife and I can sympathise with this where there is no alternative but that is not the case here."

The Turners plan to appeal the decision.

During the decision on August 15, Cllr Stephen Dehnel (Cons) left the chamber as he has "a relation within earshot of the dwelling".

Ashford Borough Council spokesman Dean Spurrell said: "The planning committee refutes any allegation of bias."

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