Children's soft play use in protected employment area unacceptable

Deemed planning permission for a children’s soft play area from an industrial use in a protected employment area in a Lancashire settlement has been refused, and an enforcement notice for the use to cease upheld, for harm from the loss of employment space and harm to pedestrian safety.

The council’s annual monitoring report identified that there was a shortfall of 4.35 hectares of new employment land needed in the borough and the inspector considered that this lent weight to the council’s adopted local plan policy which aimed to protect existing employment areas for office, industrial and storage uses. The appellant had argued the appeal site was obsolete for industrial use, had been vacant for over four years and the social, economic and environmental benefits of the leisure use outweighed the loss of the site. But the evidence in support of these assertions was held to be too weak by the inspector with no explanation of the vacancy of the building or evidence of former marketing. Although she accepted the building had been in poor condition, the inspector held this did not demonstrate that it was obsolete for business purposes especially as the landlord renovated the property for the appellant’s use. The inspector acknowledged the employment generation from the children’s play use was a benefit but held this was only modest and concluded the use was contrary to the development plan overall.

The inspector also held the proximity of the car parking spaces and the access to the existing business uses on the industrial estate and their circulation areas resulted in unacceptable risks to highway safety, particularly as the use involved children. However, the inspector extended the period of compliance with the notice from 56 days to six months as a more proportionate response to the needs of both council and appellant.

Inspector: Felicity Thompson; Written representations

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