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'Living next door to holiday home hot tubs is like Chinese water torture'

By Gavin Musgrove

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The noise nusiance from hot tubs is a bone of contention in the strath. (General image).
The noise nusiance from hot tubs is a bone of contention in the strath. (General image).

A Highlands couple has described living next to several holiday properties with hot tubs as akin to Chinese water torture because of the drip, drip impact on their lives.

Barry Middleton told the latest Highland Licensing Committee hearing his health had suffered for the past decade because of the late night noise created in Allt Mor in Aviemore near his home.

This is the first time a challenge has been brought against an application for a short term let licence on the grounds of disturbance caused by hot tubs since new legislation came into force last October in the region.

It has been a thorny issue in Highland holiday hotspots but up until now those on the receiving end could only resort to calling the police and Highland Council’s environmental health service in the mostly forlorn hope the authorities would act.

Mr Middleton and his wife Polly had asked for the hot tubs to be banned at the two holiday homes in the residential street but committee members stopped far short of that in the end after discussions lasting nearly 90 minutes.

Instead they put in place conditions restricting use of the hot tubs up to 10pm at one of the self-catering properties and 11pm at the other let, both owned by applicant Christopher John Harrison, of Tomatin.

Afterwards, Mr Middleton said: “The new licensing process is a positive step forward and a long needed tool for local communities and their councillors.

“But to ensure it is effective and helps to make day to day lives better for local residents, I would encourage anyone living with problems arising from short term lets nearby to engage with the process otherwise positive change doesn’t happen.”

Mr Middleton and his wife had spoken passionately about the impact the noise from guests using the hot tubs was having on their quality of life.

He told the meeting in Inverness: “The analogy I would like to use is Chinese water torture; one drop does not do anything but many drops in this case over the course of 10 years builds up.

“The uncertainty about what will unfold – every time I go to bed I’m wondering is this going to stop at 9.30pm, 11pm or 1am?

“I have no way of knowing how bad it is going to get...

“Most of the time it is just people like us having a holiday but for us living next door it is a nightmare.

“The impact on the quality of my life and my health has been vast. I have really suffered because of this.”

Mr Middleton added: “I could walk you through practically what I have to do to even report a disturbance.

“I have to contact the police, waiting sometimes 25 minutes to get through. This drags on. I go back to bed and I have to work the next day. This happens all the time.”

He said: “I am quite emotional about it as I have suffered a lot for 10 years.

“I do not want the applicant to suffer too but we need to find a solution that is better for everybody.”

Mrs Middleton said signage by the hot tubs about noise levels clearly did not work: “What will solve the problem is to agree the STL licence but without the hot tubs.

“There are numerous holiday lets in Aviemore without hot tubs – it is not a mandatory thing.”

Mr Harrison said he had been operating holiday homes in Allt Mor since 2004 and now has four lets, each with a hot tub, in the street and he took all issues raised with him seriously.

He told the committee: “I have never ever had any complaints from anyone living in Allt Mor – these are people living on either side of the properties.”

Mr Harrison said there were ‘numerous inaccuracies and false claims’ in the four written objections.

He said he was intending to put in automatic timers on all four hot tubs in Allt Mor to switch off at 11pm at a cost of £2400.

“This theory that all holidaymakers are drunk and running around in the garden making a lot of noise is a fallacy,” Mr Harrison said.

“I have analysed the lettings for numbers 20 and 23 (Allt Mor) and by far the largest majority of these bookings are by family people.”

Council officers said to take action it had to be ‘unreasonable disturbance’.

They said with STL licensing being new they had no picture of what was happening to take tougher action than their proposed 11pm hot tubs curfew at the two properties.

Councillor Lyndsey Johnston said in the debate: “I understand the feeling of a death by 1000 cuts but the purpose of this licensing is not to stop a business from operating.

“My gut feeling is the 11pm stop on hot tubs is a reasonable thing to try first. Removing all of the hot tubs without trying mediation first would be an expense and unreasonable.”

Related article:

Daring to dream of a restful night's sleep as new short term let Highlands licensing scheme kicks in

Committee chairman Sean Kennedy proposed an amendment for a 10pm curfew as a ‘happy medium’ on guests using the hot tub at 20 Allt Mor. It went through on his vote after a 4-4 tie against the motion for an 11pm restriction.

There were three written objections to the STL licensing applications for 23 Allt Mor which was approved with an 11pm curfew for its hot tub by 5-3 votes.

Kate Forbes has said that disturbance from hot tubs is a regular complaints from constituents. Picture: James Mackenzie.
Kate Forbes has said that disturbance from hot tubs is a regular complaints from constituents. Picture: James Mackenzie.

Badenoch MSP Kate Forbes (SNP) said noise from hot tubs at holiday homes was something which was raised with her office on a regular basis.

She said: “It’s really important that we get the balance in the strath between tourism and permanent residents.

“This continues to be a significant issue in my postbag. It’s important that all voices are heard.

"This is of course the first test of the STL regulations in the area, and I hope that local representatives are able to find the right balance.”

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