A national coffee shop chain which opened a café in Skipton without permission has been accused of “bully-boy tactics” by councillors, who rejected the company’s application to continue trading.
Caffe Nero opened an outlet in Sheep Street last month before the company submitted a planning application for a change of use from an optician’s to a coffee shop.
The retrospective application was turned down by Craven District Council this week, but an appeal to the planning inspectorate would mean it could continue trading until the outcome was known, which may take several months.
At Monday's planning committee meeting, councillors unanimously refused the application and backed enforcement action, pledging to fight any appeal.
Members described the company as having a disregard for planning regulations and trying to ride rough-shod over the council’s policy, which insists approximately 80 per cent of ground-floor units in the core retail area must be shops and not cafés.
Planning officer Roger France said the policy, which had been in existence for 12 years, had ensured the town centre had not become over-run with ground-floor cafés and had helped maintain the balance which had led to it surviving previous recessions and being named High Street of the Year.
He said the policy had helped the town maintain a good mix of retail shops in the main shopping area, encouraging cafés into side streets and also above ground-level premises, which might otherwise have remained empty.
He warned that councillors should not be distracted by the retrospective nature of the application and that it should be judged on its own merits.
Mr France added that Costa Coffee, which opened on Skipton High Street following a successful appeal, had won on that occasion because the café to shop ratio had fallen below the council’s retail mix policy. But with Caffe Nero, he was confident the council would win an appeal, if the company took that route. “This town has benefited considerably from this policy. We have a much more vibrant town centre than others,” said Mr France.
Ward councillor Coun Paul Whitaker (Cons) said there had been many local people who had wanted to open coffee shops in the core retail area, but had opened in side streets instead.
“They accepted the policy and now we have Caffe Nero with its bully-boy tactics. I don’t blame people for being upset.”
Coun Paul English (Lib Dem) pointed out it was only recently that the council had reaffirmed its core retail area policy. “Without a doubt, this is something that all eight councillors in Skipton very much agree on,” he said.
Coun Ady Green (Cons) condemned Caffe Nero’s threat of appeal if its planning application was refused.
“I say bring it on if they want to appeal. Skipton High Street was High Street of the Year and these big companies need to know they can’t kick us around.”
And Coun Alan Sutcliffe (Cons) accused Caffe Nero of being “arrogant to the extreme”.
“Our policy has stood the test of time and appeal. We should not bend the rules just because of the size of the applicant,” he said.
Coun Linda Brockbank (Cons) said: “This company is a large one that should be setting an example to others. It should not have opened without planning permission.”
Caffe Nero has told the Craven Herald in the past that it was surprised by the attitude of the council and that other local authorities had welcomed a branch opening in their towns.
It added that it thought it was better to have empty premises used than left empty and pointed to the number of currently vacant units in the town.
The company offered no comment over the decision of Monday’s planning meeting.