Bid to extend Southwold commercial zone
Business leaders are calling for Southwold's commercial zone to be extended in an effort to protect the vitality of the town centre and prevent shops being replaced by private homes.
Southwold Chamber of Trade wants planning boundaries changed so that all existing shops and commercial premises are classified for business use only – making it harder for them to be converted into residential properties.
Guy Mitchell, chairman of the chamber, said a number of business premises in Southwold were not currently protected under planning policy, including the Adnams Cellar and Kitchen shop, off Victoria Street.
He said: 'We will be lobbying Waveney District Council and working with them to redefine the business district which currently excludes things like Adnams Cellar and Kitchen. It is the biggest retail space in the High Street area and yet it is not in the business district.
'It could easily be turned into a house, which would not be good for the High Street.'
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There was a public outcry in February last year when planning permission was given to turn the Cornucopia antiques shop at the Old Bakehouse Store in Blackmill Road into a residential property.
The plans had been met with objections from neighbours, traders and Southwold Town Council, which stated there was no evidence to suggest it could not still operate as a business.
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But Waveney District Council defended its decision to approve the application, saying the property was not protected from being converted into a home because it was not within the town's commercial zone.
Cornucopia antiques searched for more than a year to find new affordable premises in the town and reopened for business at a new base behind the Sutherland House restaurant in High Street in November.
Mr Mitchell said: 'Every business lost has an impact on the character of the town. There is a demand for housing in Southwold and no new space to build so people are making use of the existing stock of buildings.
'However, it is very hard to go back once you lose those businesses. In order for the town to offer employment it needs businesses and they need premises. If we lose business premises, we lose jobs.
'I would like to see anywhere there is a business now to be protected.'
Business premises that lie within Southwold's commercial zone have greater protection than those that lie outside it when it comes to applications to convert buildings into residential properties.
However, a lack of affordable homes in Southwold – and a lack of land to build new ones – means the pressure to convert existing buildings remains a concern.
Southwold mayor Michael Ladd said: 'The town council have always had a policy that we will always aggressively resist any change of use from retail to residential in our High Street. The question is where do we draw the line.
'The town council has talked to Waveney about reviewing planning strategy and it has got to be done with a bit of consultation.
'I think it is right that we should be reviewing the High Street boundary because that is changing constantly and what was suitable five or six years ago might not be relevant today.'
A Waveney District Council spokesman said the authority understood and appreciated the concerns of the chamber of trade and the town council and 'would like to work with interested parties to try and move this issue forward'.
'There are a range of options that could be considered and we have already begun discussions with the town council about what can be done,' he said. 'Hopefully we can all work together to find solutions.'
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