Planning is a hot topic in Ashbourne right now. Decision after decision seems to either go against the public view or be overturned in favour of the big organisations to Ashbourne’s detriment – library, toilets, St Oswalds, Waterside Park, Marks and Spencer, Sainsbury, flood defences… the list goes on. Of course the Planner’s are trying to strike a balance of upholding Planning regulations and making us happy but so often they seem to fall short. We now have the prospect of 400 new houses coming to Ashbourne and yet again we are reliant on the Derbyshire Dales Planning Authority looking after us.
But not everything is on the same scale. Often planning decisions come down to small but significant choices. In June Ashbourne Coffee Stop won an Ashbourne High Street Heroes award for their Service With A Smile. In July they were told that their temporary planning permission application to stay was turned down and they have six months before they may have to move on.
Ashbourne Coffee Stop is a mobile cafe in a location just off Shawcroft car park. A retail unit has been on the same site for many years – a butcher ran it before Sue Rowley took it on. It employs three members of staff and, when I visited, I could really see how they won the award. The coffee was good, they sell homemade cakes and local produce and had a constant stream of regulars calling by to say hello to Sue and her team. The premises are clean and well maintained. The issue is that Sue did not originally apply for planning permission and the location of her business is just inside the Ashbourne Conservation Area. http://www.ashbournenewstelegraph.co.uk/News/Town-centre-coffee-shop-may-have-to-close-24072012.htm
To be fair to DDDC they also offered to help Sue find another location but her business has been established there for some time and the butcher’s van was there for 25 years. According to the Derbyshire Dales District Council the application was turned down because it was contrary to aims of Policies NBE16 NBE21 SF1 SF5 S1 and S6 of Adopted Derbyshire Dales Local Plan and also contrary to advice in Part 12 of National Planning Policy Framework & advice in Ashbourne Conservation Area Appraisal. On the face of it this seems an overwhelmingly damning rejection but behind all of the jumble of letters these all come down to the same points – does the cafe preserve or enhance the historic setting it is in. In other words it is a subjective view of Planners, influenced by objections.
On the face of it, if you just looked at a map of Ashbourne it is clear that the Cafe is within the Conservation area and within the boundaries of the historic Georgian buildings along St John Street. What the map doesn’t show is just how “at the back” of those properties it is and it doesn’t show the state of the other properties alongside. If you owned one of the Georgian properties you would face scrutiny if you wanted to build a garage in the same location. The landlords may ask “what’s to stop me setting up shops alongside the Shawcroft car park?” These are valid questions and maybe the Planners are being too sensitive. Does the Ashbourne Coffee Stop really not preserve the character and feel of the area? Does it not actually do a better job than the fences, recycling unit and the empty and ugly spaces? Apparently some people in the town would support it if some of this land hosted the market.
Personally, I think having a friendly business greeting visitors to the Town’s main car park and welcoming them to our town is a good thing. While I agree completely with the need for regulated planning I do think a common sense approach needs to apply. I think the Ashbourne Coffee Stop enhances the setting of the Ashbourne Conservation Area backs. I would like to know whether the planners visited the site and looked at the state it is in. In any case, the planning permission requested is a temporary licence which would last three years and could be revoked at that point.
Sue Rowley and the two members of staff she employs are in limbo. They carry on providing a cheery welcome to our town and they have a petition with an amazing 700 signatories so far. She deserves our support and so do the planners. Give it a visit, assess the area it is located in and what impact it has on the historic setting. This is our town and our opinions were used to help formulate the guidelines in the first place – is this ruling what we had in mind?