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By Haddenham Webteam - 2nd March 2017 5:30pm
On Wednesday 1st March an appeal hearing was held in Aylesbury to consider AVDC's decision to refuse the planning application made for the conversion of the House of Spice (19 Fort End) into dwellings.
Owners of the property wished to close the restaurant and convert the building to create seven dwellings including the demolition of rear outbuilding, single storey rear lean-to element, single storey rear extension to east & porch and erection of replacement single storey rear lean-to extensions, external alterations, parking and amenity space.
At time of the original planning application AVDC and Haddenham Parish Council resisted it primarily on grounds that no evidence had been presented to support "non-viability of the business operation", as required by Neighbourhood Plan policy HWS2 (which states that loss of the amenity will be resisted unless there is good evidence of non-viability of the business).
The appeal hearing was led by Inspector Claire Searson.
It was attended by the applicant from House of Spice, together with two colleagues: his planning consultant, and a
commercial agent. Also present were AVDC's senior planning officer (who supported Haddenham's Neighbourhood Plan position); two District Councillors, Judy Brandis and Brian Foster; David Truesdale on behalf of the parish council HPC; Graham Tyack, on behalf of Haddenham Village Society, together with two HVS colleagues; one village resident; plus the Inspector with a colleague observing.
During the meeting, the Inspector permitted some informality so that third parties could speak and engage in discussion — for which David Truesdale thanked her at the close.
The House of Spice presented information to indicate that they are struggling to maintain the restaurant as a viable business, with just 75 covers in restaurant per week. In recent times 70% of trade has been based on 'take-away' meals and only 30% eat-in. Apparently, the majority of tables are not occupied most of the time.
Lunch-time trade has ceased entirely because there is no demand.
Representatives of the House of Spice informed the appeal that the Haddenham branch is running at a loss and is subsidised by the group's other branches.
A representative from the firm's commercial agency said that advertising the property since July 2016 for sale, lease or rental options had not resulted in a single expression of interest, despite a price drop. It was claimed that this is a widespread sector issue — not specific to the House of Spice.
The House of Spice owners said were committed to Haddenham and would consider smaller premises if something suitable became available.
According to David Truesdale: "It may well turn out to be a matter of 'use it or lose it' as it does seem that people are not using it as much as in earlier years. There has clearly been a decline in the restaurant's activities since it was established in 2001."
David continued: "I drew attention to the 50% 'strategic settlement' growth that is likely to be realised through new build completions in Haddenham within the next five years, thus providing a great business & marketing opportunity, and therefore a further reason for resisting the loss of this restaurant facility."
"I also raised the National Planning Policy Framework 'paragraph 70' issues about the impact of a loss of a community asset, and English Heritage guidance on damage to conservation areas from loss of a business and loss of character from ever-encroaching residential "monoculture". All this may carry weight as far as the appeal decision is concerned."
"The parking issues were also raised, although I personally doubt they will carry significant weight."
In terms of the Inspector's decision, much will hinge on how convincing she found the non-viability evidence to be and whether the House of Spice problems are seen as specific to them, and not necessarily applying to another style of operator.
According to David Truesdale: "the decision is finely balanced".
We will bring you news of the final decision once we have it.