Site visit made on 4 February 2014
by Roger Catchpole BSc (Hons) PhD Dip Hort MCIEEM
an Inspector appointed by the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government
Decision date: 3 March 2014
Appeal Ref: APP/M9496/A/13/2209487
Country Choice, Main Road, Grindleford, Hope Valley, Derbyshire S32 2JN
The appeal is made under section 78 of the Town and Country Planning Act 1990 against a refusal to grant planning permission.
The appeal is made by Mr Michael Peckett against the decision of Peak District National Park Authority.
The application Ref NP/DDD/0513/0429, dated 11 October 2012, was refused by notice dated 14 October 2013.
The development proposed is a change of use from an A1 shop to an A5 food takeaway.
1. The appeal is dismissed.
2. The main issues are the effect of the proposal on local service provision and the living conditions of nearby residents with particular reference to noise and disturbance.
3. The shop occupies a ground floor retail space at the end of a short but substantial stone terrace. This is separated from a veterinary clinic, at the other end, by a residential dwelling. The first floor above the shop is also in residential use, as are the properties in the surrounding area with only one other retail unit, an art gallery, present in the village on the same road as the appeal premises. This road is unrestricted and used by local residents for on-street parking.
4. The Authority has argued that insufficient evidence has been submitted todemonstrate that the shop is no longer viable. However, the significant losses shown in the audited accounts and the failure of a subsequent tenant to renew the lease on profitability grounds suggest a lack of viability. The Authority have argued that the annual rent of £12,000 per annum is too high and have highlighted the existence of small convenience stores in the surrounding area. The inference that one should therefore be viable in Grindleford does not stand up to scrutiny because the financial circumstances of those other businesses may not be comparable. Since I have no further details before me I give this little weight in the balance of this appeal.
5. Another disputed area relating to viability is the period over which the property was marketed. Whilst the lease was only advertised at a lower rent for six months, I have no evidence before me, in the form of detailed guidance, to suggest that this was an unacceptably short period of time. Saved policy LS2 of the Peak District National Park Local Plan 2001 (LP) and policy HC4 of the Peak District National Park LDF Core Strategy Development Plan Document 2011 (CS) require evidence of a reasonable attempt to maintain an existing use. However, the determination of reasonableness appears to be a matter of judgement that is open to some interpretation, as is apparent from the different conclusions reached by the case officer and the planning committee.
6. Although difficult to assess objectively, I note that this period of time was sufficient to attract at least one offer from Mr Cooper of Critchlow Butchers. Although this proved to be commercially unsuitable, it does demonstrate that the marketing was effective because it attracted a potential tenant. Whilst a longer period of marketing might have attracted further offers, it would have been unreasonable to expect a business with ongoing overheads to commit to an extended period of advertising. I have taken into account the comments made about the way that the premises were marketed and the alleged difficulties with contacting the appellant. However, the documentation indicates that the property was marketed by a commercial property agent through various means. Given the circumstances, I find six months to be reasonable in this instance.
7. The other aspect of the first reason for refusal is whether it has been sufficiently demonstrated that the shop is no longer required by the local community. I acknowledge the significant number of objections that have been received concerning this proposal, as well as the role that the Grindleford Community Shop Group might play in maintaining a local shop. However, I note from the summary document of the Plunkett Foundation Feasibility Report that a rental price of more than £6,000 per annum “makes it extremely difficult for a village shop to survive”. Since the audited accounts show a fixed overhead in relation to mortgage repayments, I find the likelihood of a significantly lower lease being offered highly improbable. Indeed, the stated position of the appellant is that £12,000 per annum is the minimum rent that can be offered. I have no reason to doubt this requirement on the basis of the evidence before me. I also note that a 30 month lease has been negotiated to operate a “pop-up shop” in the church vestry. This will maintain a service that would otherwise be lost by the proposed change of use.
8. Whilst the notification of the shop as an Asset of Community Value under part 5 chapter 3 of the Localism Act 2011 does not prevent a change of use it is, nevertheless, a material consideration. However, I note from the evidence before me, irrespective of the attempted negotiations with Mr Ahmed, that no formal bid has been made to run the shop by the Grindleford Community Shop Group. The results of a vote that was taken on the 24 April also indicate significant support for a different option in the longer term. Although the favored long-term option is uncertain, the vote clearly demonstrates that the location of a future community-led general store is unlikely to be associated with the appeal premises. As a result I give the notification of the shop as an Asset of Community Value little weight in the balance of this appeal.
9. For the above reasons I conclude that the proposal is justified in terms of its impact on local service provision and would not be contrary to saved policy LS2 of the LP or policy HC4 of the CS as reasonable attempts have been made to secure a shop use and a retail unit no longer appears viable based on the evidence before me.
10. I note that disturbance from cars and individuals using the outside seating area would have been present during the period over which the appellant’s business was operating. However, even if the conditions suggested by the Environmental Health Officer limiting opening hours and delivery times were applied, the pattern of use in comparison to village shop/café would not be the same, with activity persisting late into the evening. Furthermore, the behaviour of customers who might be tempted to congregate outside the shop could not be controlled by condition. In some settings such impacts might not be noticeable but given the quiet rural location and extremely close proximity of residential properties, the change of use would lead to significant disturbance. Even though an increased level of disturbance would result from the shop being brought back into use, this would be comparable to the previous situation and not have the same potential for disturbance in the late evening.
11. Consequently, I conclude that the change of use would cause significant harm to the living conditions of nearby residents and would, therefore, be contrary to policies HC5 C and GSP3 E-F of the CS that seek to protect the living conditions of local communities and guard against an inappropriate forms of use.
12. The appellant argues that national policy supports economic growth in rural areas and justifies the change of use. However, the Government places great importance on sustainable development which forms a golden thread running through the entire National Planning Policy Framework 2012 (the Framework). Whilst economic growth is important, paragraph 8 of the Framework makes it clear that sustainable development can only be achieved where economic, social and environmental aims are sought jointly. Furthermore, paragraph 9 goes on to state that sustainable development involves seeking positive improvements not only to the quality of the built and natural environment but also the quality of people’s lives. Given the harm that would be caused to local residents, I conclude that this development would not be sustainable and that would therefore be contrary to paragraph 9 of the Framework.
13. I have found in the appellants favour in relation to the issue concerning local service provision. However, having regard to the information before me and my own observations on site, I conclude that the proposal would be unacceptable due to its impact on the living conditions of nearby residents. For the above reasons, and having regard to all other matters raised, I therefore conclude that, on balance, the appeal should be dismissed.