Plans to convert a vacant listed shop unit in Christchurch, Dorset, into a coffee shop would improve the vitality of the town’s high street, an inspector has decided, overruling local policy to grant permission.

The appeal related to a unit on the ground floor of a grade-II listed corner building in Christchurch which was formerly occupied by the footwear chain Shoe Zone. The unit has been left vacant for some time.

The appellant sought permission for a change of use from class A1 (retail) to a coffee shop under a mixed A1/A3 (food and drink) use.

Local policy requires that proposals do not result in a continuous frontage of more than three non-retail uses, and that a shopfront appearance is retained. The appeal scheme complied with both of these criteria.

However, local policy also seeks to ensure that non-retail units do not cumulatively amount to more than 30 per cent of all ground-floor units within primary shopping frontages. The council refused permission on the grounds that non-retail uses on Christchurch high street already exceeded 30%.

The appellant did not dispute this policy conflict. Instead, it argued that “an extensive marketing exercise” for the premises had been carried out for “a relatively long period of time” with no success. The appellant had also considered various other vacant units with an existing A3 use, but found these to be too small for the proposed use.

Inspector S Edwards noted that the sale of food and drink to be taken away would contribute 40% of total trade. Therefore, the retail aspect of the proposal was more than incidental. 60% of trade would be eat-in.

The scheme would provide an active frontage within the primary shopping area, she continued, and would bring back into use premises that had been vacant for some time. It would also enable the viable use of the listed building.

Rather than harming the vitality of the town centre, Edwards concluded, the proposed use would “complement the offer in the area”, attracting footfall for longer periods of the day and evening, which would benefit other retailers. The appeal was therefore allowed.

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22 May 2019