(761) NO HOUSE PARTIES IN ROYAL CIRCUS
On 4 March 2008 an Extra Division of the Court of Session quashed a reporter’s decision that the owners of No 1 Royal Circus, in Edinburgh’s New Town, were not in breach of planning control rules by using their house at the address as a commercial entertainment venue (Bennett v Gordon  CSIH 21 (http://www.scotcourts.gov.uk/opinions/csih21.html)). The court found that the Reporter had failed to give appropriate weight to a report prepared by an inquiry agent who had been commissioned by a neighbour in an adjoining property. The report’s findings are summarized thus at paragraph 19 of the Court’s opinion:
It contained, as an appendix, a transcript of a long conversation between an inquiry agent – who on 11 December 2003 posed as a person seeking to hire the premises for a formal party event – and the first respondent. We have read this transcript with some care, and it is clear that a number of significant inferences could readily be drawn. In the first place, it appears to us that the most obvious – although, agreeing with Miss Crawford, perhaps not the only – inference, is that the first and second respondents no longer used the property as their home (see e.g. page 2 and page 4); that the property was available for hire as an entertainment venue on a commercial basis, in particular available to be let to third parties for short periods for the purpose of holding parties, at a charge of £750 for a 24 hour period (see e.g. page 5) (the latter consistent, as it happens, with certain information contained in an Evening News article of 17 December 2004 which was before the Reporter but not mentioned by him); that these short-term lets were necessary because matters had to be couched in terms of planning laws (see page 3); that the venue had already hosted many such parties (certainly more than two after August 2003), often with celebs; that there was to be another one that evening (see e.g. page 1); and that the diary was beginning to fill up for such events in the New Year (see e.g. page 9). According to the inquiry agent the first respondent provided him, prior to departure, with a postcard which indicated that the premises were available for events, receptions, house parties, cocktail parties, birthday parties etc. In the second place, we consider that on no reasonable view could it be said that the only reasonable inference from the transcript is that the first and second respondents had in mind some contemplated, potential future use of the property in these ways. Instead, quite apart from the reference to past use, the first respondent’s apparent position that the property was available for such use, and that it was being advertised on that basis, is in our view capable of being regarded as strong evidence of the present use of the property, however successful such promotion may or may not have been.
It seems to have been admitted that the owners made only limited use of No 1 Royal Circus for residential purposes. The complaining neighbour is a senior member of the Scots bar.