Dispute between owner of dog cafe on the Yorkshire coast and local residents called 'toxic' during meeting over noise complaints

A councillor has described an ongoing dispute between a Marske café owner and neighbours living nearby as “toxic”.

In the Dog House owner Andrea Summersgill

Coun Stuart Smith said he was saddened by the state of affairs surrounding In The Dog House, a coffee shop and wine bar which has been subject to repeated noise complaints from local residents.

Business owner Andrea Summersgill failed with a planning application to remove a condition previously imposed on the premises which only allows a set of doors on a rear facing conservatory, which open out into a beer garden, to be opened in an emergency.

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The unsuccessful application, which saw Ms Summersgill appeal to councillors to “use their common sense”, had received backing from Redcar MP Jacob Young and ward councillor Karen King, while a 240-name petition was collected and submitted to the council also in support.

Supporters said the existing arrangements meant staff serving customers sitting outside had to make their way up and down the side of the building using a narrow path while often carrying hot food and drinks, while it was also more onerous for the elderly and disabled wanting to use the toilet who could not simply enter the building using the conservatory doors.

But members of Redcar and Cleveland Council’s regulatory committee, which Coun Smith is chairman of, sided with a recommendation from planning officers which said the condition should remain.

It had been requested by councillors in order to protect neighbour amenity when permission was given for the conservatory and a side extension in 2019.

Ms Summersgill’s original venture, pet grooming salon Paws and Claws, saw the addition of a dog-friendly café/coffee shop with a licence later being obtained to sell alcohol.

A council report raised environmental health concerns, stating: “Removing the condition [to allow the rear doors to be left open] would have the potential to cause significant levels of noise and disturbance to existing residential properties to the north east of the application site.”

‘It is horrendous’

Neighbour J Dowle told the committee that following the start of the Covid-19 pandemic the conservatory doors had remained open all the time.

Mr Dowle said: “Me and my family enjoy our garden and due to the noise of people in and out of the conservatory, especially later on at night as the beer gets flowing, it is horrendous.

“We can hear the taped music all the time from the conservatory doors being open. We are unable to have the bedroom windows open at night because we can hear people in and out shouting, going back and forth to the toilet.

“They have no consideration for the neighbours, really, there’s no noise control.”

Another neighbour Steven Shaw, who said he was speaking for several other residents, said: “The condition to prevent the use of the rear doors was put in place to protect local residents from what was at the time a much smaller business, but as the business has grown so has the noise.”

He said he had asked the owner one evening politely to turn the music down, which she did, but claimed it was then turned up much louder five minutes later.

Mr Shaw said he reported an incident to the police after being verbally abused by customers one night while in his garden. Subsequently he and his family had moved to the other side of their house to live and sleep, and escape the noise.

He added: “I ask that you put our wellbeing and right to be able to use our house and garden in peace over the need for profit.”

Paul Burniston, who said he had lived in the area for 45 years, said: “The noise of regular live music and recorded music, plus the shouts and revelry has been unbearable.

“Even with the conservatory doors closed we have to keep our doors and windows closed during high temperatures.”

Coun Mike Lockey, from Saltburn, Marske and New Marske Parish Council, said: “Owing to the virus pandemic the [conservatory] doors are being kept open to circulate air resulting in a loss of amenity for those within earshot.

“There are adequate doors and windows at the front of the building without the need for these doors to be open.

“It is clear from correspondence that excessive noise is emanating from the premises and seriously interfering with neighbours’ pleasure.

“The parish council planning committee sympathises with the loss of amenity by neighbours and considers the present attitude of the applicant to be in total disregard of the condition, using the virus pandemic as an excuse.”

‘Negatively impacted’

In his submission Conservative MP Mr Young claimed the case to remove the “particularly stringent condition” was overwhelming.

He said: “My view is that the business, its customers, and members of staff are negatively impacted by the condition that currently exists and that there is no legitimate reason for it to continue.

“If the condition is not removed, the rear doors are not permitted to open for a member of staff to do something as necessary as emptying the bins, or a customer to have easy access to the toilet facilities.

“Instead, they are forced to use the side path alongside the business, which arguably can create a greater disturbance for nearby residents.”

He added: “I do not believe that the condition prevents nuisance to neighbours, particularly given the beer garden that already exists there and is simply restricting the ability for a great local business to operate to its highest potential at a time when small companies have already suffered so many limitations.”

Coun King, who represents the St Germain’s ward, said: “The doors don’t make any noise and the staff having to navigate up and down the side of the cafe is not only time consuming, but not really logical as they are having to make several trips for each customer’s order often while carrying hot food and drinks.”

She said there had been submissions from several elderly and disabled customers who found access to the toilet indoors much more difficult than simply going back through the conservatory doors.

Coun King said she had visited the premises and had sat in the conservatory and the rear garden and had not heard excessive noise.

Ms Summersgill, who previously also had an appeal to the Planning Inspectorate over the condition dismissed, said she employed 11 staff who lived locally and was appealing to councillors’ common sense.

She said: “The rear garden is a popular area for people to sit in as it is a suntrap, although there are only seven tables. To reach this area the safest route is through the conservatory doors and that applies to use the toilets.

“I have a mixed age group that frequent The Dog House and the older ones find it difficult to use the side path, the staff are in the same position and I feel it is a health and safety issue to expect them to carry heavy trays all around the building to reach the back garden.

“Covid is still a big part of our day to day lives, we have reduced the capacity and our staff are still wearing masks, and I feel the doors should be allowed to remain open to create good air flow.”

Ms Summersgill said the drinking element of the business only opened on a Friday and Saturday.

She also claimed one neighbour had cut down trees and shrubs on his property that were helping to create a sound barrier.

Ms Summersgill added: “The [conservatory] doors are always closed at 9pm as are the windows, and if we resume live music people will sit in the main part of the building, not in the conservatory.”

‘Noise control systems’

Coun Billy Ayre said the general rule for residents was that if they could hear noise in their own house it was too loud.

He said: “I did my time working in clubs and pubs and other such venues and where residents made complaints about the noise, the businesses had to put in noise control systems.

“Yes they are a bit on the expensive side, but that’s what they had to do.”

Coun Anne Watts said: “At the present time the noise nuisance continues and I think we have to abide by the condition.”

Coun Smith, a former policeman, said if the planning condition was removed there was evidence from council officers there would be an increase in noise and the neighbours’ amenity would deteriorate.

The council report had warned of the potential of a noise abatement notice being served on the premises.

It added: “The applicant has failed to address how noise will be controlled from the use of the rear doors being open during operational hours.”

Coun Smith said: “It does sadden me that we have got to this state of affairs where we have the business on one hand and the residents on the other.

“It has become toxic and there is no middle ground where there will be any agreement. It is a neighbour dispute which from my previous experience is very difficult to resolve.”