Industrial estate cafe refused on viability grounds

An inspector has accepted the loss of a vacant office building to a café use at an industrial estate in Newport but refused the proposal overall for its detrimental impact on the vitality and viability of the nearby town centre, contrary to adopted local plan policy.

Adopted local plan policy regarding out-of-town centre retail proposals in the area required the scheme to be assessed against a quantitative and qualitative need for retail in this particular location and the application of the sequential test to show that it could not be provided in a more preferable town centre location. The inspector accepted that a café could fulfil a complementary role within an industrial estate but felt the submitted evidence of need was not persuasive. He felt the lack of an existing café on the estate and the presence of mobile cafes were not meaningful indicators of either met or unmet local demand.  He considered the lack of any detailed assessment meant the judgment in Waterstones Estates Ltd v Welsh Ministers, 2018 was relevant and determined that as the needs test was not met, there was no need to consider the evidence regarding the sequential test. 

In terms of the loss of the office building to a café use at a protected employment site, the inspector ackniwledged the vacant building’s former ancillary function to the adjacent storage yard on the estate, as demonstrated by a lack of a physical boundary between the two sites. He also considered the building's small scale and poor internal condition and felt these, along with its ancillary function, were material considerations which outweighed the absence of any technical evidence of a lack of demand for the office use required by the local plan policy. Although he accepted a conflict with the policy in this respect, the inspector opined there was little evidence that the proposed change of use would harm the principal function of the industrial estate or unacceptably restrict the range or choice of employment sites within the city and the policy conflict was not therefore a reason to dismiss the appeal. 

An award of costs against the appellant was refused, the inspector holding the appellant’s case that the marketing exercise demonstrating a lack of demand for the appeal building would serve no useful purpose had substance and their evidence of need for the café, although poor, was material to the case. He concluded the appellant’s overall case had been reasonably substantiated and no unnecessary or wasted expense had been incurred by the council.

Inspector: Paul Selby; Written representations

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