An historic Quantocks Hill public house has been allowed to be converted for a holiday lets business despite a wave of local objections, including from the people in charge of promoting the area of outstanding natural beauty (AONB).

The decision to allow the change of use of the Blue Ball Inn, Triscombe, was taken by Somerset West and Taunton Council (SWT) planning officer Ben Gilpin in consultation with planning committee chairman Cllr Simon Coles.

It was despite SWT’s planning procedures requiring applications to be determined by elected councillors at a committee meeting when four or more people and the parish council objected.

In the case of the Blue Ball, SWT received 14 letters of objection from local residents, as well as opposition from West Bagborough Parish Council and the AONB.

A SWT spokesman was unable to explain at the time of going to press why the council did not follow its usual procedure in determining the application.

Now, current owner Grant Fowler can convert the pub to a ‘Sleeps 12’ holiday let, ending more than 400 years of hostelry trading.

Mr Gilpin defended granting change of use approval by the fact there would not be any external alterations to the property or any use of it which would affect the character of the AONB and local amenities more than already experienced through it being a pub.

He said there was no evidence that a proliferation of holiday lets in the Quantocks was detrimental to the area, and none of the concerns expressed by local people were actually planning issues.

Planning consultant Damian Claughton, of Jackson Architects Ltd, said since 2008 a succession of tenants had unsuccessfully tried to run the pub and then Covid-19 was the final straw.

Mr Claughton said the Blue Ball was currently without a tenant and ‘closed until further notice’.

He said the planning application was an attempt to allow the premises to have a dual use as a holiday business while also keeping it available for entertainment and local events.

AONB landscape planning officer Alex Meletiou said: “Although the physical landscape is not overly impacted by the proposal, the change in character from rural pub to holiday accommodation would have a high impact on the AONB.

“The character of the area is under threat from a development of this nature.

“The potential to generate high levels of noise, light, and disturbance to tranquility is significant and at odds with the AONB’s primary purpose to conserve and enhance the AONB’s natural beauty, its special qualities, and distinctive characteristics.

“There is a point where the increase in this type of holiday accommodation within the hills is in danger of causing harm to the very qualities that attract people in the first place, whether they come to live in the area or just visit.

“From the description, the type of accommodation being offered does not seem to attract those wishing to enjoy the tranquility of the hills and this location seems inappropriate for such a venture.”

Parish council clerk Peter Hamilton said councillors agreed with ‘the widespread objection among both close neighbours and other parishioners’.

Mr Hamilton said on behalf of councillors: “It would not be right to accept that it is no longer a viable concern without a detailed study of the financial management of the pub.

“Parishioners are asking why, when the pub has been successful for over 400 years, it has now failed completely over the past few years.

“Simply accepting the claims of the applicant is not right in their view.

“For example, there are claims which the parish council cannot verify that the rent charged to tenants was in excess of £50,000 per annum.

“There have been long periods when the pub has been periodically shut with no informastion as to whether it would reopen.

“This inevitably led to a situation where people thought it was permanently closed and went elsewhere.”

Mr Hamilton said there was concern about large groups of a ‘different clientele’ of up to 16 people being attracted for ‘holidays’.

He said: “Experience elsewhere in the parish of such groups shows that anti-social behaviour such as loud noise beyond midnight, fireworks, and external lighting being used throughout the night are commonplace in such developments.

“In this location, which is currently very quiet and has no street lighting, it would be a huge invasion of the close neighbours’ enjoyment of their properties.”