Caffe Nero, which has been trading in Marlborough since April without planning permission for change of use for its former fashion store premises in the High Street, still has until September 19 to appeal.
Wiltshire Council’s area planning committee rejected the international chain’s retrospective application with only one vote against on July 19 against the advice of its chief development planning officer Mike Wilmott.
This was partly because of Caffe Nero’s record of winning 16 out of the 17 planning inquiry appeals for sites all over the country, its action in blatantly ignoring accepted planning rules by trading without consent is not an illegal act in itself.
Now Mr Wilmott, answering questions raised by Marlborough News Online, has revealed that Wiltshire Council is obliged to go through a detailed planning process, which has allowed Caffe Nero to continue trading.
“As I think I pointed out at the outset, the necessary legal searches have to be undertaken to ascertain all those with an interest in the land,” he explained.
“The notices have to be drafted and the wording checked by legal officers to ensure that they are correct. The law then requires a minimum number of days between service and taking effect, which is a minimum of 28 days from receipt. “Allowing for the vagaries of postal delivery, we normally give six weeks to ensure that we don’t get tripped up over the time period.”
The delay has infuriated Marlborough town councillors and objectors who point out the that government itself is now seeking to speed up the planning process by doing away with red tape procedures.
“I’m extremely disappointed with the situation,” protested Councillor Richard Pitts. “It appears to be typical Wiltshire Council reaction, faffing around not wanting to upset the status quo and not following the planning committee’s overwhelming decision to reject Caffe Nero’s retrospective change of use application.
“And it is happening at a time when the government is urging changes in the planning process to do away with all the delays and having a faster reaction to planning problems like this. I shall raise questions on this at our new Planning Committee meeting.”
John Yates, one of the party of 14 objectors who attended the Wiltshire planning meeting in July, posed the question: “Would it be fair to set up a fish stall in the middle of Caffe Nero and sell haddock there while your application to do so was considered?”
He told Marlborough News Online: “Caffe Nero are considered to be planning cheats. If you want to change use, you make a planning application and wait for committee approval. If you get it, you change use then start trading.
“Caffe Nero applied, changed use, started trading and insisted on retrospective permission. They didn’t get it, but they’re still trading.”
“Having leased a prominent location, they’re taking a lot of Marlborough’s coffee shop trade. This must be a threat to other coffee shops. A chain driving out independents.”
“Surely the planning committee isn’t just a rubber stamp. It has a right to debate community issues like this.”
Newly-co-opted town councillor Val Compton, who was at the same meeting, declared: “Normally in this country, when you are quite openly breaking the rules there is a means to stop you.”
“However, Nero know exactly what they are doing and what cannot be done to them. They are flagrantly carrying on trading regardless of any rules – I wonder what sort of example this sets to community?”
“It’s no wonder that people receiving a parking ticket when they are five minutes late get really mad, when the powerful get away with so much – that is not natural justice.”