“Planning steamroller” gives victory to Caffe Nero in the battle of the High Street

Written by Gerald Isaaman on .

Paul ShimellPaul ShimellCaffe Nero is on the verge of being given planning consent for its new coffee shop in Marlborough High Street, where the conversion of a fashion store began weeks before a planning application was made -- and in the face of an onslaught of  objections.

But despite Caffe Nero’s “calculated” breach of regulations and objections from Marlborough town council, the Chamber of Commerce and more than 60 individuals, Wiltshire Council’s eastern area planning committee is being recommended next week to grant approval for change of use.

And it is doing so on the back of a planning appeal decision in a similar Caffe Nero case in Skipton, Yorkshire, where the inspector overturned a council enforcement closure notice and declared that another café in the shopping centre would do no harm to the vitality of the town.

“This is the planning steamroller running roughshod over the wishes of everyone who cares about Marlborough and its future,” protested Paul Shimell, president of the Chamber of Commerce.

“If Wiltshire takes that view too, then this virtually opens the door to anyone opening whatever kind of business they want, wherever they want, and to hell with obtaining planning consent in advance.”

“It is quite shocking, a madness that means you cannot plan for the future because what you want to happen will just be squashed by the planners, which is what happened in the case of the closure of the Ivy House Hotel.”

And he added: “It makes a nonsense of the government’s Localism legislation, which is supposed to put decision making into local hands.  It’s now a free for all where you can do what you like.”

“It’s a total joke when we already have more than 20 eating and drinking outlets in the town.  So why bother to plan for the future?  But that is exactly what the Chamber and the town councillors are currently working on in a positive way.”

The report by planning officer Peter Horton says:  “This is a retrospective application because the proposed change of use was implemented six weeks after the application was submitted in what would appear to have been a calculated course of action.”

“Whilst this breach of planning regulations is an unfortunate action which the local planning authority can in no way condone, it is not a criminal offence, and the planning application stands to be determined on its individual planning merits.”

“It is worth noting in the Skipton case that the inspector commented:  ‘I have noted the concerns raised that the use proceeded before planning permission was granted.  I do not condone that course of action but it is not a good reason to withhold consent, especially when no harm has been shown to arise from the coffee shop use.”

The approval recommendation is subject to conditions that an acoustic and vibration impact assessment is made following objections of the owners of the flats above Caffe Nero on grounds of noise, vibration and smells from the air conditioning and extraction units.

Opening hours will also be controlled.

Planning officers made incognito visits to Caffe Nero after it opened to check on the extent of retail sales of sandwiches and drinks but, says the report:  “The evidence base shows a thriving business which is attracting significant numbers of customers, more than most surrounding retail businesses.”

“It cannot therefore reasonably be concluded that the proposal is harming the vitality and viability of the town centre.  Furthermore, a recent appeal decision at Skipton indicates there would be little prospect of any refusal being upheld at appeal.”