Avebury villagers oppose National Trust plans for its take away café - or was it going to be a 'fast food' outlet?
The Coach House in the centre of Avebury, which is owned by the National Trust (NT), houses three separate public lavatories and what is described as a 'Fast Food Outlet'. Planning permission for the latter was given in 2010, but it has "...only been used to cover the late night demand of the Solstice events."
A new planning application by the NT (submitted to Wiltshire Council in February) is for "...outdoor seating for use by the food outlet within the courtyard front and rear of the Coach House. Erection of screened refuse area within the coach house courtyard." The submitted plan includes eight tables and chairs - all collapsible so they can be stored in side the café when it is closed.
The NT also wants to extend opening hours for the food outlet to 11am - 5pm.
The Coach House stands within the bounds of the Grade II listed house known as The Lodge. It is attached at one side to the Red Lion pub. At present it is best known for its public toilets - the door to ladies toilet is on the front of the building.
The original paperwork for the planning consent used the term 'fast food' rather liberally. Then on March 3 the NT emailed Wiltshire Council's planning officer with an amendment: "In response to adverse comments...the amendment is to remove the reference to Fast Food and to clarify the intended use of the café."
The revisions also addressed villagers' worries that the drinks and food were to be served in throw-away cups and on throw-away plates with throw-away utensils - with no rubbish bins provided.
it is now clear that the café will provide food more likely to be found in the slow lane than the fast lane: hot and cold (non-alcoholic) drinks, soups, snacks (such as hot or cold pasties and sausage rolls) and cakes.
There is a separate planning application to install removable advertising signs - including an A-board. The Council's World Heritage Site (WHS) officer does not oppose either the changes to the café or the signage.
She does say: "In short signs should be modest and kept to the minimum size and most discrete position necessary to inform exiting visitors of the presence of the fast food outlet."
There is some surprise in the village that the new cafe arrangement - with chairs and tables both in front and at the rear of the coach house - seems to ignore the presence of the three public lavatories.
One villagers' objection to the application asks: "Is it appropriate to have a café, particularly an open-air seated café, in a building which is primarily a public toilet? The toilets are not well maintained according to some of the visitors who use them." And that, according to some villagers, is putting it mildly: they smell - badly.
Although papers have been submitted to the planning officer by Wiltshire Council's highways and WHS officers, there is nothing from the Council's Public Health officers to reflect on any risks attached to siting a cafe so close to public lavatories.
Avebury Parish Council have objected to the main applications on thirteen grounds. Among them they believe that "The fast food outlet would represent a significant commercialisation of the centre of Avebury, as evidenced in part by the proposed increase in staffing levels. This commercialisation would impact on almost all visitors, residents and others in Avebury during its opening hours."
They point out that the NT have provided no ‘evidence of increases in demand for fast food and drink’ - countering the NT’s statement: “Increased demand during the summer months on all catering facilities exposed a need for additional capacity…”
They also pick out several anomalies in the application - for instance it is not clear whether the café would be open all the year round or only between March and October. Nor is it clear whether it would be open six or seven days a week.
The Parish Council also objects to the application for advertising on the building and with an A-board.
There is some doubt among villagers as to why the NT needs to open this café - it is right beside the pub which serves a great variety of food, and the NT already has two other food outlets in the village. It may also take trade away from the Community Shop which already sells snacks, ice creams and a wide-range of drinks.
The target date for the decision on planning consent was to have been March 31. But due to the NT’s revisions, the consultation period for these applications now ends on April 6. Both applications have been 'called in' by West Selkley Councillor Jemima Milton for full and public discussion at the Eastern Planning Committee.
She cites anxieties about the development's visual impact, its design and general appearance, its impact on highway issues and car parking - also that: "It goes against policies agreed in the World Heritage Site action plan."