PEOPLE POWER won the day in Christchurch when a hotly contested application for another coffee shop in the town was rejected by councillors, despite their officers’ recommendation to approve.
One hundred residents put their names to a petition against Coffee #1’s bid for the former Shoe Zone ground floor unit at 42 High Street – a grade 2 listed building in the conservation area – and 14 letters of objection were received.
The main concern was that there are too many cafes and not enough retail units in the town centre, and that additional competition from another chain would kill off independent family-run businesses.
Speaking against the proposal at Christchurch council’s planning committee meeting, Mike Ismail, director and owner of Baggies Coffee House at 43 High Street opposite the application site, said there were already 28 cafes between Travelodge at one end of the town centre and The Priory Church at the other.
“Planning policy guidelines say a high street should have 30% non-retail use units but in Christchurch that has already been exceeded and there are 40%,” he said. “So many shops have closed already.”
He rubbished Coffee#1’s claim the new outlet would create eight new jobs, arguing existing jobs would be lost with the subsequent closure of other businesses.
“The footfall in the High Street has decreased due to coffee shops and hairdressers, because rates are too high for retailers to afford,” he continued, adding he had counted seven other vacant premises that could potentially be used for a coffee shop.
But the applicant’s agent, Elliot Jones, said the scheme would reuse a prominent building that has been vacant for a year. “You have to achieve a balance, and the proposal will be sensitive to the existing listed building and an improvement on the current shop front,” he added.
Officers recommended approval because they said the proposal would have economic, social and environmental benefits.
“The scheme will provide economic benefits in terms of the jobs created,” their report stated. “An assessment of the merits of the application has not revealed an overriding harm to the vitality and viability of the town centre as a result of the proposals, and in fact it is considered preferable to re-use a long-standing vacant unit as this will provide vibrancy and an active frontage in the centre of the primary shopping frontage.”
But Cllr Peter Hall proposed refusal, saying: “There is over 40% non-retail use in the town centre, which is staggering.
“There are other properties that have been empty for longer so why make an exception for this shop? We’ve got a lot of properties on the market because they couldn’t make it pay.
“This application will be detrimental to the vitality and the viability – it’s not a shop we want in the town centre and we have enough already.”
Cllr David Jones echoed these concerns. “People want a variety of shops and I don’t think they will make a special trip to Christchurch to visit one coffee shop or another,” he said. “They have to have a reason to come to a town centre.”
The application was refused on a majority vote.