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Appeal: Deliveroo ‘dark kitchen’ in Swiss Cottage wins 12-month reprieve

Deliveroo / iStock: 1040653668

A controversial delivery-only kitchen facility operated by app-based startup Deliveroo has been awarded a temporary 12-month permission, subject to numerous conditions and compliance with a community liaison group.

LOCATIONSwiss Cottage
AUTHORITYCamden Borough Council

The appeal concerned the lower-ground floor of a two-storey building formerly used for storage in Swiss Cottage, north-west London. In 2017, the online food delivery company Deliveroo took over the space.

Founded in 2013, Deliveroo initially offered delivery of food from existing restaurants. More recently, it launched a venture called Deliveroo Editions – fully equipped commercial kitchens staffed by “restaurant partners”, where food is prepared for delivery through the app only, with no provision for eating in or collection.

Each restaurant brand has its own staff and cookers, but storage and facilities such as refrigerators are shared. Deliveroo does not charge for rent or utilities, instead taking a commission on each order.

As of April 2019, there were 16 similar facilities, called ‘dark kitchens’ by the BBC and others – operated by Deliveroo in the UK. The appeal scheme’s location was chosen because of its “large residential population underserved by the existing selection of restaurants”.

Camden Council issued enforcement action against the facility in June 2018, alleging an unauthorised change of use to a sui generis commercial kitchen and delivery centre. Deliveroo appealed under ground (a), seeking retrospective planning permission. The resulting inquiry was the first of three the company faces in London and Brighton this year.

The council, along with a local residents’ group that was granted ‘rule six’ status at the inquiry, argued that the facility had caused noise, odour and highway safety problems, and had diverted trade away from existing restaurants. 

The council indicated that if the appellant agreed to various conditions and an operational management plan, then it would not oppose the scheme. The rule six party remained wholly opposed, however.

Inspector Diane Lewis was sympathetic to the concerns of local residents, noting that according to Deliveroo’s data, the maximum number of pickups from the site in any given 15-minute period in 2018 was 24, or 96 an hour. She also noted that as a result of the Deliveroo app’s algorithm, riders are encouraged to “wait around or near the premises”, acknowledging concerns that they could “become intimidating in their numbers”.

Since the notice was issued, Deliveroo had made various improvements to the operation of the facility, which Inspector Lewis acknowledged. These included ventilation upgrades to control odour, and, as of July 2019, ceasing the use of motorised scooters for delivery, relying instead on bicycles. 

Lewis also considered the scheme's benefits. These included the fact that traders can set up on site without significant upfront costs, allowing them to “test the waters” in new areas and share experience with other cooks, and employment benefits: as well as the 29 people employed full-time at the site, either by Deliveroo or as traders, a total of 1,340 riders made deliveries from the site in 2018.

In the planning balance, Lewis acknowledged that the use had been shown to require “a high degree of planning and management control”. However, “very significantly”, she noted, “the council's position was that granting permission through the deemed application, with suitable conditioning, could bring the development within planning control and make it acceptable”.

On this basis, she decided to quash the enforcement notice and award a temporary one-year permission, during which the facility would be monitored through a community working group secured by a planning obligation. The permission was granted subject to a number of conditions legally securing the improvements proposed and already made by the appellant, and an operational management plan.

The inspector’s report – case reference 3206954 – can be read here.

Image credit | iStock