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22/01/2018

Appeal: Inspector saves valued seaside café from demolition

Words:
The Bay View Cafe / Stephen McKay

An inspector has refused plans to demolish a popular former café in Bigbury-on-Sea, Devon, and replace it with houses despite the area’s severe housing shortage, ruling that ‘sustainable development is not simply about housing supply’.

The appeal relates to Bay View Café, a seaside café commanding impressive views across Bigbury Bay towards Burgh Island. It was operated from the early 1900s until it ceased trading in 2015. The appellant sought permission to demolish the café and replace it with four, four-bedroom houses.

Inspector Robert Parker considered that the café served two roles: providing refreshments for beach walkers and tourists, and providing a meeting point for the local community. Although closed in the off-season, it ran popular themed food nights and was licensed to sell alcohol. According to the South Hams Development Plan Document (DPD), community facilities will not be redeveloped unless there is a demonstrable absence of demand, or they can be proved unviable.

At the hearing, the appellant argued that the Venus Café, a year-round fast-food outlet for beach-goers, provided alternative local provision. Parker considered this incomparable, noting that it provides “an altogether different customer experience”, offering takeaway food with no shelter from the elements. In any case, he added, market conditions are strong, with a 20 per cent increase in visitors to the area in the past 10 years. Both businesses could be supported, he decided.

Bay View has been vacant for more than two years, and would need a complete refit in order to reopen as a dining establishment. The appellant estimated that this would cost £163,000, but the council considered that it could be done for just £60,000, with a smaller kitchen and other adjustments.

After Parker ruled the council’s estimate the most realistic, the appellant argued that even based on this figure, the owner of the café would have an income below the median in the area. Parker rejected the appellant’s assertion that the café operator would demand a higher return, finding no reason why an owner could not be found who would be prepared to accept less than the median benchmark "as a reward for their labour".

Parker also ruled that the building should be treated as a non-designated heritage asset, notwithstanding Historic England's decision not to list it, because it is “one of the earliest surviving costal cottages to service the local fishing community”. The café portion of the building also “illustrates the early 20th century development of the town as a holiday destination”.

In summary, Parker found clear demand for “this important local facility, for which there is no alternative provision”. Considering that the appellant had failed to demonstrate that reopening the café would be unviable, he ruled that the proposal would conflict with the development plan as a whole.

In the planning balance, the inspector weighed this harm against the benefits of four family-sized homes, in light of the council’s housing land supply of just 1.9 years. Concluding that “the retention of community facilities is integral to achieving sustainable development”, and “not simply about housing supply”, he dismissed the appeal.

The inspector’s report – case reference 3171733 – can be read here.

Image credit | Stephen McKay

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