Vineyard owners make their case to sell wine on their site near Cross-in-Hand

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Wealden councillors have retired to make a decision after hearing a vineyard’s bid to sell wine during tastings and tours.

At a day-long hearing on Monday (April 8), Wealden District Council’s licensing sub-committee considered an application for the sale of alcohol at the Beacon Down Vineyard near Cross-in-Hand.

During the hearing, the vineyard’s owners Paul and Alice Pippard told councillors the licence would allow them to ‘cut out the middle man’ by selling their produce at the farm gate as well as during wine tasting events and vineyard tours.

Mr Pippard said: “We are a new vineyard still finding its feet. We planted in 2015 and every aspect is run wholly by us.

“We hope to create a viable lifestyle business through sales, tours and tastings.

“Farm gate sales are important to make the business viable and the licence would also mean we could make retail sales for online purchases.

“From day one we wanted the community involved and for [the vineyard] to be an asset to the village of Cross-in-Hand.”

Mr and Mrs Pippard also told councillors they had previously secured temporary event notices to sell the vineyard’s wine on site.

These events included a summer BBQ to celebrate the vineyard’s first vintage, which was attended by more than 100 people.

They said neither they nor Wealden District Council had received any complaints about noise or disturbance from neighbours during any of these events.

The application, however, had proven highly controversial among local residents, with many voicing their objections to increased activity on the site during the meeting.

Jermey Phillips QC, a barrister representing objectors Richard and Diana Randell, said: “It is critical to look at this it in its context and against the setting.

“I stand to be corrected but you will never hear an application that is made in a more tranquil, rural and peaceful location than this. It is elysian in its character.

“That obviously is what moves the residents. They simply want to preserve that for that place.

“Activities which, on the face of them, seem modest and unexceptional elsewhere have a much greater impact here for those reasons.”

Mr Phillips also argued the applicants should be required to carry out a habitats regulations assessment (HRA) – which would measure the environmental impact of the proposals – before any licensing decision could be made.

He said this should be done despite Wealden District Council’s own planning department advising it to be an unnecessary measure.

Mr Phillips said this advice had been ‘very clearly influenced and persuaded’  by the smaller number of wine tasting events in the previous year, which he said had since been stepped up.

But if the licence were to be granted, Mr Phillips argued, then the sub-committee should consider a number of additional conditions put forward by the objectors.

These additional conditions included: the number of wine tours being limited to seven per calendar year; a further restriction on opening hours; a ban on ‘weddings, festivals of any description, stag or hen parties or other forms of celebration on the premises’.

The suggested conditions also included a direction that the only product sold on site should be wine produced at the vineyard.

However Mr and Mrs Pippard said they would not support these additional conditions, arguing they would either be unnecessary or would unreasonably inhibit the running of the business.

They said they had already decided to forego the playing of live or amplified music during events as part of their initial application.

The licensing conditions as applied for also included an agreement to write up a noise management plan, Mr and Mrs Pippard said.

They also said they could support a ‘threshold’ approach to how many people could be on site during their events. They suggested a cap of up to 120 people before 7pm and a cap of 30 people at wine tastings in the evening.

Following the hearing the sub-committee retired to consider the evidence heard, with councillors warning they would be unlikely to come to a decision until the end of the week.