PLANS to convert the grade two listed, former NatWest Bank in Settle into a café or restaurant on the ground floor with four apartments above have been deferred following a row over the giving of listed building consent by officers.

The chairman of Craven District Council’s planning committee said members had been left with their ‘backs against the wall’ after hearing it would be very difficult to refuse the planning application for the former bank- which has a blue plaque commemorating visits of Sir Edward Elgar - because listed building consent had already been given by an officer acting under delegated powers.

The application went out on a ‘seven day notice’ in March, last year, to ward councillors who had been given the opportunity to call it in for a committee decision, but that had not happened, and the listed consent, for the conversion of the bank itself, had been approved.

A separate planning application which included the building of a cottage at the back had been refused at the same time, and the applicants have now returned with another plan which is virtually the same as the original, but without the cottage.

Ward councillor, David Staveley, said his fellow ward councillor, Wendy Hull, had dealt with the seven day notice, and had been under the impression the scheme was to be refused. He added it was just before the country had gone into the first national coronavirus lockdown and that ‘eyes were off the ball’ but had he seen it was recommended for approval, he would definitely had picked it up.

Cllr Staveley told the online meeting that the imposing building was an important part of the town’s conservation area and even had a blue plaque commemorating visits by the composer Sir Edward Elgar when the building was Buck’s surgery, and that development needed to be more sympathetic.

The meeting was also told that Settle Town Council was strongly opposed, and had raised 14 reasons why it should be turned down, including overdevelopment and a significant impact on the privacy of neighbours.

Peter Hopkins, consultant/agent for the developers, the ARBA Group, said the only reason the earlier application had been refused was the inclusion of the cottage, and that had now been removed. He said rather than going to appeal, the applicant had worked with council planners towards an acceptable scheme.

This was a ‘significant opportunity’ he said to re-use a grade two listed building; to make use of parts of the building not used since the 1970s, to provide Settle with needed one and two bed properties, and to provide the town with a new retail, or cafe or restaurant unit, contributing to the economic vitality of the town.

He said: “This scheme presents a significant opportunity to find a suitable use for the grade two listed building. f this application is not approved by the committee, then it would seriously damage investor-developer confidence.”

Cllr Alan Sutcliffe said if the application had been brought to committee, he believed there would have been a very different outcome.

It was ‘undoubtedly an overdevelopment’, an inappropriate place for a cafe and a ‘gross further desecration of a grade two listed site,’ he said.

Cllr Andy Brown moved refusal against officer recommendation on the grounds of it being out of character in the conservation area, a substantial risk to the heritage asset, over-development and negative impact on neighbours.

Planning manager, Neville Watson, recommended deferring the application in order to consider the plan, and the potential of costs, if the developer went to appeal.