Three months ago, John Cook wrote to his local council to complain about the noise coming from a neighbouring property which was being used to host huge parties.

He became so infuriated at the way that the local authority was dealing with the issue, he decided to do something about it himself.

And last week, after a gruelling election campaign, he was voted onto the same council, as a "straight talking" independent, vowing to "resolve" the issue.

Mr Cook, 60, who runs an electrical contracting firm, was driven to stand for office by an ongoing row about a huge 17th-century property in his village of Saxlingham Nethergate, just south of Norwich. 

Eastern Daily Press: John Cook's election leafletJohn Cook's election leaflet (Image: John Cook)

The 10-bedroom home - Hill House - and a surrounding 'glamping' site are rented out for hen and stag parties and corporate events. 

It is owned by Darren Swayne, a businessman and hedge fund founder.

The property - less than 100 metres from Mr Cook's front door - has attracted several complaints from locals, who have compared the noise from the site to that from an Ibiza nightclub.  

Last year, posters were put up throughout the village saying, "Hill House Stop the Noise". 

Almost all have since been taken down. But several were up during the election campaign outside Mr Cook's home, alongside his own "Look! It's John Cook" signs.


Ahead of the election, Facebook comments posted on Mr Cook’s behalf said there were issues with Hill House that “need resolving” and his election material took aim at the planning department at South Norfolk Council (SNC), saying it has a “lack of control in local matters and a lack of enforcement”.   

SNC denies this and insists it follows national policy. 

Mr Cook now represents the village's ward - Newton Flotman - on that very council, after receiving 414 votes, defeating his nearest rival, Conservative Laura Webster, by 79. 

In his election manifesto, Mr Cook, who lists his favourite musical artists (Bob Dylan and Bruce Springsteen), says: "I will say it how it is from the beginning, no nonsense."

He also outlines other areas of interest that motivated him to stand. 

He attacks candidates of the main parties, saying they are "judged on their ability to agree with party bosses rather than what they truly believe is best for their constituents". 

Eastern Daily Press: Hill House Picture: Denise BradleyHill House Picture: Denise Bradley (Image: Denise Bradley/Newsquest)

He cites a controversial development in nearby Swainsthorpe and singles out SNC's planning department - which is involved in the Hill House row - for "not putting communities first" and "ignoring local people's concerns about massive unrest and objections".

Hill House itself can accommodate up to 25 guests. But many more can stay in bell tents in its grounds.

Locals say some events have attracted crowds of up to 200 people, with some lasting several days. 

Locals say that as well as excessive noise and drunken shouting, they have also endured adults running through the quiet village streets playing tag and games being organised in a nearby abandoned church. 

A campaign group, which Mr Cook is not a part of, was launched objecting to the venue.

Eastern Daily Press: Stop the noise signs were placed in the village Image: SuppliedStop the noise signs were placed in the village Image: Supplied (Image: Supplied)

Last year, the group created a petition signed by almost 100 people calling for the noise to stop. It was then that the signs were put up around the village.  

Late last year, Darren Swayne, the owner of Hill House, submitted a series of planning applications, including one for a 'lawful development certificate' to say the space can be used for “events and corporate use”.  

The certificates are used to confirm that the use of a property is lawful.

They can be applied for once the land has been in continuous use for 10 years.

In a statement submitted to SNC, Mr Swayne said the certificate should be granted because the site has been running as a business since 2007.

Eastern Daily Press: Saxlingam NethergateSaxlingam Nethergate (Image: LDRS)

Mr Cook wrote to the council in response, accusing Mr Swayne's evidence of being “inadequate” and arguing that he had failed to show continuous activity. 

“As neighbours we fail to understand and believe how the council have not carried out any enforcement on this premises and presently it is still operating," he wrote. 

“We are extremely distressed and upset and feel severely let down by South Norfolk Council Planning.”  

Mr Cook is one of more than 50 objections that have been submitted to SNC. 

This week, he declined to comment on his election or his views on Hill House, saying he had yet to receive training from the council and had been advised not to talk to the media.

A Hill House spokesman said: "We were very lucky to acquire Hill House in 2003 and spent over three years on the restoration of the house. We are proud to be custodians of such an incredible building.

"We have been operating consistently since 2007 and have comprehensive supporting evidence as part of our applications with South Norfolk Council." 

The application will be decided in due course.


2003 – Hill house, a Tudor-style manor in leafy Saxlingham Nethergate, purchased by businessman Darren Swayne 

2007 – Mr Swayne and his partner move out after finishing renovating the property 

2007 – The house is first used as a holiday let 

2012 – Plans to use the space as a wedding venue are dismissed by South Norfolk Council

2022 - Residents put up posters around the village, saying “Hill House stop the noise”; a petition is signed by almost 100 people calling for the property to stop being used as a venue; Mr Swayne submits planning applications seeking “lawful development” certificates

2023 - Neighbours argue that because the site was not in use during the pandemic, Mr Swayne cannot claim it was in "continuous use" for a decade. Neighbour John Cook - who is opposed to Hill House - stands for election and wins