Caffe Nero evidence should be thrown out because it “blatantly flouted” planning rules, public inquiry told
Part of the evidence submitted by Caffe Nero to a public inquiry into its appeal against the refusal of planning consent for its coffee shop in High Street, Marlborough, should be thrown out.
This was the angry demand from independent town councillor Val Compton when she gave evidence yesterday (Thursday) to the delayed second day of the inquiry, held at Marlborough Town Hall.
She told planning inspector Phil Grainger that Caffe Nero had deliberately flouted the planning rules after opening its new outlet last April without seeking planning consent in advance, thus tainting its retrospective planning application.
And it was a tactic that the company, based on the Isle of Man and in Luxembourg, had blatantly used all over the country.
“As parts of Caffe Nero’s evidence was gathered prior to planning permission by their deliberate flouting of the rules, I feel very strongly that this part of their evidence should be considered inadmissible,” she protested.
“To gain advantage through abusing the system, even though it is within the letter of the law – but certainly not the spirit – does not sit easily where justice is concerned.
“For Nero Holdings, this is now a tried and tested method, as I found by entering the words ‘Caffe Nero’ and ‘retrospective’ into Google.
“The internet is alive with fury at their blatant disregard for the rules and the absolute contempt shown for due process in many towns.”
She claimed that Nero Holdings literally seemed to think it was their right “to barge in, set up shop and trade.” Making a planning application, where one is required, came “very near the bottom of their ‘to do’ list.”
And Mrs Compton, who has campaigned against Caffe Nero as one of the international companies that fails to pay any UK corporation tax, added: “I believe there is reliance, particularly in these cash strapped times, of councils being reluctant to get involved in the costly appeal process.
“Surely, retrospective planning was not intended as a default position, but only intended for occasional use. Caffe Nero are now using the retrospective planning process as a loophole to gain advantage, not just in Marlborough but across the UK.”
She pointed out that Caffe Nero have opened in many other towns, prior to planning permission being granted, just as they did in Marlborough.
“It would seem they choose to deliberately ignore the planning rules to gain ground, produce figures on footfall, or a customer petition etc which would appear to give them a very uneven advantage in the case of a planning appeals.
“It is easy to prove a positive – such as the number of customers per day, a signed petition by those customers, or the even the profitability.
“It is, however, nigh on impossible to prove a negative, such as the number of customers who may have been lost to any number of other local businesses, or the effect generally on a High Street.
“No one can provide absolute proof of how customer behaviour may have changed had Caffe Nero not been there. Every customer would have taken a different route and spent their money and time differently.”
Others at the inquiry challenged the validity of Caffe Nero surveys and claims that it proved its presence has attracted more people to Marlborough and has not undermined the vitality and viability of independent retailers.
In her final submission, Sarah Clover, counsel for Wiltshire Council, which served on enforcement notice on Caffe Nero to quit the premises in August, also questioned the basis of the company’s “flawed” claims.
“It is the positive impact which is unsubstantiated and that is what this appeal is all about – what the local plan is all about,” she insisted.
“The appellant maintains that Caffe Nero is an attraction itself and that people are drawn specifically to it, for its own branding. The appellant maintains that Marlborough is compact and easy to traverse on foot, so that people will move around regardless of the pressure of Caffe Nero.
“If that is true, then it is difficult to understand why Caffe Nero cares, as it clearly does, where precisely it is positioned with in Marlborough. If that point is good for others, then it is good too for them.
“On the contrary, their Mr Price (a witness) made it plain that they would only wish to go in this high footfall area. Their actions belie their arguments.”