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East Suffolk Council considers future running of Barley Mow pub in Witnesham, Ipswich, following resident noise complaints

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The future running of Barley Mow pub in Witnesham, Ipswich, is to be considered by East Suffolk Council, following an application for a licence review on the grounds of public nuisance.

Residents’ despair and apologies from those running the pub were heard during today’s meeting of East Suffolk’s licensing sub-committee, which will return with a decision on changes to the pub licence in five days.

The review, applied for by East Suffolk Council’s Environmental Protection Team, will make judgments on changes to opening hours, the removal of the current Designated Premises Supervisor (DPS), and the reduction in times during which music can be played – or the removal of music playing as a licensable activity altogether.

Barley Mow in Witnesham. Picture: Google maps (58479228)
Barley Mow in Witnesham. Picture: Google maps (58479228)

John Corker, Suffolk Constabulary licensing officer, spoke about the issuing of an abatement notice and written warning, both of which seem to have been ignored by supervisor Niall Austin as the pub continued to play music.

Mr Corker said: “We cannot have confidence in somebody who isn’t going to take notice of legal or advice to prevent public nuisance.”

A resident who lives close to the Barley Mow, talking on behalf of some of his neighbours, said: “For many years, the pub and us neighbours have got along just fine. We went to the pub, and saw it as a hub of the community.

“In late July last year, the pub started holding karaoke nights, which quickly became dance-style club events.

“At this time, the pub began advertising itself on Facebook as a nightclub.

“These events were held on a weekly basis, with the noise becoming increasingly louder. This has caused us significant distress.

“There have been many disturbed evenings and sleepless nights, leading to exhaustion, depression and despair – and people have suffered from stress and anxiety.

“I live about 100 feet from the pub, but even at that distance I have felt my windows vibrate.”

The resident also spoke about veiled threats he said were sent and posted by Niall Austin via Facebook – with one comment from Mr Austin reading, according to the resident: “I do hate people that complain but haven’t got the balls to say it to me, but it’s all good because I know who you are.”

The police provided an investigation number to two residents of Witnesham – due to one potentially threatening Facebook post and one potentially threatening message, both allegedly by Mr Austin.

Mr Austin seems to accept a proposal that he will be removed as DPS. He has recommended someone to replace him, but the Environmental Protection Agency would prefer to find an independent DPS.

Piers Warne, solicitor on licensing team at TLT and representing the pub company and Niall Austin, said: “We are very sorry that we are here today. This is an apology to the residents for the disturbance caused, on behalf of Mr Austin and the pub company.

“Mr Austin’s intention was to try to rejuvenate a pub that was suffering – like most hospitality businesses have suffered – during Covid.

“He was asked to and began to put on karaoke events for people. At the start, they were supposed to be small events.

“They grew exponentially, and Mr Austin has said it was a mistake to allow this to happen.

“After the time he had spent trying to recoup some of his losses, it was quite intoxicating to see his business thriving again. And he took his eye off the ball.”

The committee heard that Mr Austin and others interested in the pub were happy to comply with many of the conditions put forward by the Environmental Protection Team – including turning off music and closing doors and windows at 11pm.

However, they did not agree with the suggested closure of outside areas at 10pm every day – instead asking for an 11pm closure during weekends.

A member of staff who has been working at the pub for two months told the meeting: “We have heard about the impacts of the music at the pub on mental health and work.

“I suffer from mental health issues, and I have done so for a very very long time. Prior to working at the pub, I also had a hard job caring for people with dementia.

“We have all just gone through lockdown, and everyone who has suffered can actually go out and sing and have a nice time now.

“I really enjoy working at the Barley Mow, and a lot of the residents of the village get a lot of enjoyment out of the karaoke nights.

“I think a compromise needs to be made, but not one that stops the music completely.

“It is a lot safer to go to the Barley Mow than to go out in Ipswich, which would be the other option if we didn’t have any music here.

“You hear in Ipswich about people getting their drinks spiked, but I have never felt unsafe at the Barley Mow. It is one of the friendliest pubs I have ever been to.”