Couple take charity to court over ‘noisy’ play area

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Brockenhurst muga
Marie and Martin Sampson claim they are caused “nuisance” by noise while people use Brockenhurst muga

A CHARITY is being taken to court by a Brockenhurst couple who claim youngsters using the village’s multi-use games area have caused them “significant nuisance”.

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Marie and Martin Sampson are set for a judicial showdown with Brockenhurst Village Trust (BVT) at Southampton Magistrates’ Court.

The couple claim their Tattenham Road home has been affected by “noise nuisance” from the neighbouring facility – which is managed by BVT and known as a muga – between 3rd November 2017 and 22nd August this year, contrary to a section of the Environmental Protection Act 1990.

BVT is due before the court on 20th November to enter a plea and has already said it will contest the claim, meaning a full trial hearing is likely to go ahead in the New Year.

Mrs Sampson told the A&T a district judge assessed their complaint and concluded BVT had a case to answer. She said the couple were open to discussions with the BVT prior to the hearing to avoid the parties having to go to court.

“The BVT has dismissed every complaint from a number of neighbours and will not accept that there are any issues to be addressed,” Mrs Sampson commented. “The BVT has stated that they investigated complaints as to drug and alcohol use on the muga and found no evidence.

“However, other villagers have told us of alcohol being consumed when they have walked past and the police were informed about an incident of drug use following evidence being obtained.

Brockenhurst muga
A warning sign at the Highwood Road muga

“Given that these are a small number of incidents over two years, I would expect the BVT to focus on the noise issues generally rather than making claims that they have made investigations and found no evidence when evidence exists that those incidents occurred.”

Mrs Sampson added: “The BVT are bound by legal duties, some set in statute, and I sincerely hope that the BVT is ensuring it is complying with its duties and in particular the requirements of the Charity Commission as to the steps it should take before entering into legal proceedings.

“I have reviewed the Charity Commission’s guidance and I do not believe to date they have acted in a manner which conforms with those requirements.”

In response, the BVT said it was prepared to fight the case, although it was “disappointed” the complaint was being pursued through the courts.

“The trust has worked continually to minimise nuisance, for example by adding padding to deaden noise and raising fences to minimise balls straying into neighbouring gardens,” the BVT added.

“We have met with the neighbour on several occasions, and made further efforts to minimise any issues. These have been rejected.

“The trust has also asked this neighbour and others to take any issues to New Forest District Council’s Environmental Health Team so they can investigate independently, and come up with recommendations which the trust would be bound by. This again has been rejected.”

The muga is next to the existing village hall, Scout hall and playground and was opened 18 months ago as a community project. Prior to its construction BVT engaged with the community on the plans.

Youngsters and families can often be seen enjoying Brockenhurst muga

It is used by groups including the Scouts, Cubs and Brownies, the village school and sports teams, while birthday parties, charity events and football tournaments are held there.

During the summer, it can be used until 8pm, and from October through winter it closes at 5pm. There is also a code of conduct which states there must be no swearing at the facility, for which the local community raised £63,000 to fund its overall cost.

As previously reported in the A&T, the dispute between the Sampsons and the BVT has been ongoing for the past 18 months.

Both Mrs Sampson and BVT have made claims about the other side, alleging they have failed to respond to offers and evidence presented by one another. What is accepted by both is they have held discussions over that period but failed to agree a way forward.

In a previous interview with the A&T, Mrs Sampson said her family struggled to sleep because of the noise from the muga, claiming it often goes on beyond 9pm. She works in an office in her garden and says conference calls have been interrupted by the sounds of swear words.

Mrs Sampson, who has two young children, even went as far as to enlist acoustic consultants in June to undertake a noise impact assessment. It concluded the muga generated a “highly intrusive” noise level above what was acceptable within the Sampsons’ home.

She stressed she did not want to close the muga down – acknowledging her own children use it – but would like to see acoustic fencing which meets the recommendations of acoustic professionals put in place and the facility locked at night.

Previously, BVT chairman Sue Hunter and trustee David Bennett expressed belief the trust had been “very sympathetic” to neighbours. Mr Bennett added: “We do think we have acted reasonably. We have constructively reviewed it and have taken steps to look at the situation.”

David Bennett and Sue Hunter have said the BVT is prepared to fight the case

The pair added there had been one or two “teething problems” with “occasional lapses” of use outside accepted hours and reports of drinking – but they had been sorted out some time ago.

Mr Bennett said Mrs Sampson had requested a fence be put up to stop balls going into her garden, but when BVT put forward a planning application she was one of the objectors.

BVT was prepared to install an acoustic fence on her boundary provided she funded half the cost. He also revealed BVT received 39 letters of support from local residents. One said the muga was a “wonderful asset”, while another said it “shows off the community at its best”.

Amid the battle, the BVT has confirmed it will put up CCTV at the muga. The parish council pledged support for the idea in principle at its latest meeting on Tuesday night.

BVT added: “Currently the trust is installing CCTV to monitor its Highwood Road site, including the muga, to be able to verify, or disprove, any annoyance issues. This hasn’t been possible in many alleged cases due to lack of evidence.

“The muga is an overwhelming success, enjoyed by all ages, supported by the overwhelming majority of neighbours, and the complaint will be strongly resisted in court,” the BVT remarked.

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