Caffe Nero’s arguments for its right to trade in Marlborough High Street after opening its new café without planning consent have been swept away in a devastating attack from the Kennet branch of CPRE.
John Kirkman, the district group’s chairman, has labelled them as “spurious”, having “no foundation” and also as “rather grandiose” in a comprehensive report he has prepared for the planning inquiry due in January.
He demolishes in particular the claim that Caffe Nero’s takeover of the former Dash fashion store in April has caused “no harm” to the town as not a “highly relevant” planning issue in Marlborough’s case.
And he has damned the survey evidence the company has produced which insisted it has boosted trade and the vitality of the shopping centre.
“If localism is to mean anything, the wish of the local community to preserve the balance (of trade) in favour of A1 retail activity by independents should be given overriding weight in this case,” he declares.
Objectors to Caffe Nero’s appeal against the refusal of Wiltshire’s eastern area planning committee to give its change of use retrospective planning consent have only until the end of October to submit their protests to the Planning Inspectorate based in Bristol.
What is significant is that Dr Kirkman refuses to accept the results of a similar planning inquiry in Stockton – one of 16 out of 17 Caffe Nero has won across the country – as relevant precedent affecting Marlborough.
The district policy involved there made no mention at all of harm or good being caused by the takeover of retail premises.
“In the Marlborough case, absence of harm is not an appropriate measure, since the policy calls for evidence of positive good,” he says. “Absence of harm – or a negative contribution – does not automatically imply presence of good or a positive contribution.”
“There is a neutral position, which is maintenance of the status quo – in this case, the filling of the gap left by the departure of Dash with a store that neither adds to nor detracts from the level of vitality and viability that existed in Marlborough town centre while Dash was present.”
The he adds: “To support their contention that the Caffe Nero shop makes a positive contribution to the vitality and viability of Marlborough town centre, the appellants rely principally on evidence of numbers of visitors, or footfall in the area. “Agents for Caffe Nero counted the customers visiting shops neighbouring 21–22 High Street on Thursday–Saturday, 14–16 June. They counted visitors to five shops to the north of 21-22 High Street (Hamptons estate agents, Marlborough Jewellers, Robin’s Travel Agency, Marlborough Tile Factory Shop, and Maythers gifts and cards), and two shops to the south (Haine & Smith opticians and Dorothy Perkins).
“They claim that their results show that ‘Caffe Nero adds to the vitality and viability of the town centre and generates additional visitors’. We refute those claims.”
“The counting of customers visiting neighbouring shops was notably selective, extending c.63 metres north of 21–22 but only c.25 metres south of 21–22, and not at all down Hillyers Yard.”
“The agents carefully leapfrogged Waitrose, which has a well-patronised coffee shop, and stopped short of The Polly Tearooms, probably the most famous source of morning coffee and afternoon tea in Wiltshire. They ignored Hillyers Yard, which has two more outlets offering coffee.”
“From their counts, they derive an average number of customers visiting the shops ‘in the vicinity’ over a three-day period; then, they base their claim that ‘Caffe Nero adds to the vitality and viability of the town centre and generates additional visitors’ on the strength of the fact that the number of visitors to Caffe Nero ‘significantly exceeded the average’.”
“That is spurious ‘argument’, setting up an artificial criterion for assessment in order to be able to claim a favourable judgement.”
“The fact that their shop attracted more visitors than those counted is not surprising or relevant. The different retail offers in the other shops amply explain the different numbers visiting those shops.”
“It is reasonable to accept that a coffee shop will have a higher throughput of visitors than, for example, an optician’s or an estate agency.”
Mr Kirkman further points out: “The appellants have not even shown that any of the visitors to their store on the days surveyed were ‘additional’ in the sense that they would otherwise not have visited Marlborough town centre on that day if the Caffe Nero shop had not existed.”
“303 customers were interviewed over four days — Sunday added — about their purpose in visiting Marlborough town centre. Of those, 153 (51 per cent) said they specifically planned to visit Caffe Nero during their visit to the town centre; 150 (49 per cent) said they visited Caffe Nero because they were just passing and decided to enter.
“To use the planning statement’s own expression, Caffe Nero was ‘parasitic on existing pedestrian flows passing the premises’.”
“Only 52 (17 per cent) cited ‘to visit Caffe Nero’ as the main purpose of their visit to the centre: but that is not the same as saying they would not otherwise have visited the centre, or that there was no other motivation for their visit.”
“The appellants’ claim that ‘It (Caffe Nero) attracts additional visitors to the town centre and generates additional footfall’ has no foundation.”