Woodbridge: Council accused of ‘double standards’ over cafe bid

A BUSINESSMAN last night accused council chiefs of double standards after seemingly allowing a national cafe chain to flout planning laws and continue trading.

Patrick Hockley, of the Woodbridge Fine Food Company, said it appeared as if Suffolk Coastal District Council had “one rule for one, and one rule for another”.

The claim was strongly denied by the district council, which said it judged every planning issue on its merits.

Italian coffee bar Caffe Nero opened a premises on the corner of Brook Street and Thoroughfare, in Woodbridge, at the end of last year. The chain had not applied for the required planning permission for the site, which was designated for retail use only.

Last week the district council agreed to allow the cafe to continue trading – subject to a number of conditions.

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Mr Hockley said: “It’s a complete case of double standards.

“Previously, the district council have denied smaller, independent cafe owners permission to open up on the same site, or sites nearby.

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“Now, seemingly because Caffe Nero is a larger, national chain, it has allowed them to carry on.

“It seems it has one rule for one, and one rule for another. I’m not against Caffe Nero, I actually think its brilliant for the town because it will get more people in. The issue I have is over the double standards.”

Last week, the district council’s south area development control sub-commitee approved a report that recommended – given changes in policy and legislation – that a departure from the local plan was justified as it would benefit the town.

An enforcement notice was issued allowing trading to continue, but with conditions including controlled opening hours and use as a coffee bar.

Marion Wells, Woodbridge town centre manager, said she felt businesses would like to see Caffe Nero follow the same rules as everybody else – in this case having to apply for planning permission.

Last night, a spokesman for Suffolk Coastal said: “We would strongly reject any ill-founded claims that this council has been operating a different set of rules for so-called big name applicants.

“We treat all applications and planning matters on their individual merits.”

He said Woodbridge’s planning policy – which dates back to the mid-1990s – was being updated as part of the Local Development Framework, which allows greater flexibility for taking into account the potential impact that proposed changes of use could have on the vitality and attractiveness of the town’s shopping area.

He added that they expected to soon be consulting on a planning application from Caffe Nero, at which time everyone would be able to have their say. Caffe Nero were unavailable for comment.

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