Public hearing hears of coffee shop concerns

9:35am Thursday 7th June 2012

Allowing Caffe Nero to continue operating unchanged in Skipton would open the floodgates, a public hearing was told.

Roger France, Craven District Council principal planning officer, said the council's policy of insisting on 81 per cent of shops in the core area being retail only on the ground floor was central to the town's continued success and vitality.

And he urged planning inspector Tim Belcher at last Wednesday’s public hearing to uphold the policy, even though Caffe Nero pushed it over by just 0.8 per cent.

Caffe Nero, it was revealed, would continue operating from the corner of Sheep Street whatever the outcome of the appeal - but would move its seating upstairs if it lost the appeal.

Mr France said there were four others waiting for the decision of the appeal, lodged by Nero Holdings Ltd after the council issued enforcement action in December calling for it to stop running a ground floor café. They included the Three Sheep Café in Sheep Street and Taste, Swadford Street, both recently having been issued with enforcement notices giving them three months to shift tables and chairs upstairs. The others were the Russian Tea-rooms in the High Street, currently operating a tearoom from the upper floor, and Fat Boys icecream parlour in Coach Street.

“We are asking you (the inspector) to be very careful about the decision you make, it will have a very significant impact on the town,” he said.

Mr France said it was not the current impact on the town, but the potential future damage caused by many more operators using the appeal decision to open up ground floor cafés.

He said the original aim of the policy was to stop Skipton turning into a place for the “tea and pee” visitor - as coined by a former councillor.

He argued that it had forced café operators into side streets and into upstairs premises, opening up other parts of the town, and that the policy was as relevant now as it had been when it was first adopted in 1999.

“If we lose this appeal, we would lose control over something that locally is felt very, very important,” he said.

But agents for Caffe Nero argued that the policy was outdated and in fact posed a risk for the future of the town.

James Findlay, QC for Caffe Nero, said they recognised the fact that Skipton was thriving and was suffering the impact of recession less than other towns.

“We are not suggesting that Skipton is failing, what we are suggesting is that this policy makes it not best placed to meet the challenges of the future,” he said. And he pointed out that the council had been unable to produce any evidence that Caffe Nero was having a damaging effect on the town.

Chris Green, also for Caffe Nero, produced statistics from a survey carried out on the number of customers visiting the coffee shop and some of its neighbours. Over three days in March, Caffe Nero and the two nearby charity shops received the most visitors, with 1,404 visiting both Caffe Nero and Martin House Hospice; 1,392 to Oxfam; 276 to Thomas Jewellers, 276 to Dalesox and 324 to Holland and Barrett.

Former town councillor Hazel Bulcock accused Caffe Nero of bullying its way into the town by opening up before getting planning permission. Pushed by the inspector whether that was her main objection, she said it was.

A decision is due shortly.

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