Weddings cancelled due to neighbour dispute

Long Furlong Farm has become landlocked due to an access dispute

By Sarah Ward

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With just days to go until the lockdown ban is lifted on wedding celebrations, Carmel and Ali Haigh should be getting ready to welcome couples to their rural venue near Daventry to celebrate their special day.

But last week the Haigh’s had to tell ten engaged couples who had booked a wedding at Long Furlong Farm in Catesby their big days cannot go ahead as planned.

They had to break the news that the couples, their guests and the wedding suppliers would probably not be able to access the site due to the owner of nearby land refusing access.

The Haighs have been involved in a long running dispute with neighbour Mike Theaker since their wedding business launched two years ago. 

Last summer Mr Theaker bought from the Department for Transport (DfT) a patch of land the Haigh family has been tenants of for the past five decades, which means guests to the Haighs home and wedding venue have to go through the land to get to their destination. The road can only be used for residential not commercial access.

The couple applied in November for alternative access to the site, but as the matter has not been dealt with as yet by Daventry’s District Council’s planning department the Haighs don’t think there will be a suitable alternative route to the venue in time for their first wedding of the year on April 10.

Carmel says:

“It just seems like a bad dream. We had kept the matter private until now but we can take no more.

“We wrote a letter (to Mr Theaker) two weeks ago, saying ‘if you allow us to honour the bookings that we have got for this year and next,  we will turn it over to residential in September 2022’. We have had a response from (his) solicitors acknowledging the letter, but nothing more.”

Carmel continues:

“The couples have all been amazing. When we spoke to them two weeks ago to tell them of the problem, they all wanted to stick with us. But Ali and I took the decision on Tuesday that it would be better cancelling everyone now so they have time to find another venue.

“It has been heartbreaking for each couple and their families and for the many suppliers, also small independent businesses, which have been booked for each wedding. It is not just a business for us, we put our heart and soul into it.

“We have overcome all the hurdles that the pandemic has thrown upon the industry and we should be on the home straight. But we now have a venue that nobody can access.”

All couples have been refunded in full, or moved their date to next year. If this has not been possible they have put them in touch with a wedding planner who is helping them to find another venue for this year.

The dispute

The dispute goes back a couple of years. In 2018 the couple were granted an alcohol licence in order to hold their own wedding in July of that year at the site. The following year they applied for retrospective planning permission for a change of use for an existing agricultural barn to a wedding venue. Mr Theaker, who lives a mile away in a home he brought from Mr Haighs family, objected, along with a number of other residents and the parish council.

Concerns raised by objectors included event music noise ruining the tranquility of the area and the increased traffic on nearby roads. At the meeting the Haighs were criticised for making some building alterations without permission.

The Haighs have farmed the land ever since Ali’s father bought it in 1952. Like many other farming families they have diversified in recent years in order to keep money coming in.

In 2019 they hosted four weddings at the venue and were only able to hold two last year before the pandemic hit and large weddings were made illegal.

In spring 2020 they were informed by the Department for Transport that a patch of land they were renting (which sits beside their land) would be sold. They put in a sealed bid. But they lost out to Mr Theaker who lives less than a mile from the venue.

Over the course of the dispute they have had numerous letters from Mr Theakers solicitors and have had numerous complaints made against them to the local authority. They say there was even a complaint made that they were running their farm as a Home of Multiple Occupancy. 

To try and resolve the matter they wrote at the end of February requesting access so the weddings could go ahead. They received a response on March 3 acknowledging the correspondence. They then decided on March 9 they would have to cancel the wedding bookings as they could not let the couples wait any longer. On March 11 they received an email from the Theakers solicitors saying they expect to be in a position to have a ‘substantive response’ shortly and their clients ‘remain committed to resolving the ongoing dispute amicably.”

The Haighs say the matter has been tiring and relentless and they have no intention of causing upset to the local villagers by their business activities.

NN Journal contacted Mr Theaker about the reasons for refusing access and he said he did not want to answer the questions.

He said:

“We do not think it is appropriate to become embroiled in a public battle with Mr and Mrs Haigh and we are continuing to seek to resolve the dispute privately and (if at all possible) amicably.”

What now?

The couple await a decision on the planning application for alternative access that they have lodged with Daventry District Council. They have a full summer of weddings booked for the next year and hope they are able to go ahead and can put this episode behind them.