Outcry at plans to turn business into house in Southwold

A decision to allow a shop to be turned into a new home in Southwold has sparked a public outcry amid claims that it highlights a lack of support for local businesses.

A planning officer at Waveney District Council gave the go-ahead last week to the owner of the Old Bakehouse Store on Blackmill Road to convert the property into a house.

But the decision has been condemned by some people in the town, who say it could lead to a loss of seven jobs and the potential closure of Cornucopia antiques, which currently occupies the building.

The plans, approved under delegated powers, had been met with objections from residents, traders and Southwold Town Council, which stated there was no evidence to suggest it could not still operate as a business.

Defending its officer's decision to approve the application, Waveney District Council said there was no planning reason to refuse it and stressing the premises did not fall within a 'commercial zone' which protects businesses in the town centre against conversion to residential properties.

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However, lease-holder Danielle Swanson, of Cornucopia, said she had been unable to find new premises in the town because of the high business rates, although she planned to remain open as long as possible.

She said: 'Our landlord is a nice person, but he wants to turn the building into a house for himself and you cannot argue with that, so unfortunately we will be without a trading post.

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'The sad thing is the only stores that can afford to come to Southwold are the chains, but that changes the reason why people come to Southwold.

'We would like to move somewhere else in the town but we have been looking for a year and a half and we have not found anything yet.'

At present, the property is shared between seven people who lease a room at the Old Bakehouse Store.

Guy Mitchell, chairman of the Southwold and District Chamber of Trade, said he felt the council had 'made a mockery of the planning process'. He said: 'We decided at the last committee meeting that we were keen for all businesses premises to remain businesses premises in Southwold.

'We think it is very important to have a mixture of businesses in the town and important for the community that we keep the businesses we have. We find it shocking that we have raised objections, and so have Southwold Town Council, but an unelected official can overturn those views.

'We see it as a total failure by Waveney District Council to support local businesses. You have to ask where the council stand on opportunities for employment when it makes a decision like that... It makes a mockery of the planning process.'

The plans for the building will see the shop converted into a home with roof lights, new window openings and a dormer installed, and a flat roof removed to provide a courtyard garden. There has been no indication as to when this work will start.

John Perkins, secretary of the Southwold and Reydon Society, said he believed the council had taken a narrow view and failed to see the wider implications of the approval.

He said: 'So many people were against it, which raises questions about the planning decision, and more importantly, shows the dangers of taking a narrow planning view. People are going to lose their jobs because of this. It is sad because Southwold has always been a prosperous area and now we have empty shops and a loss of jobs. Waveney District Council has only added to this by making a decision which leads to further job losses.

'Sometimes it is not just about the details but looking at the context. We are very disappointed.'

A council spokesman said it was committed to supporting independent businesses in Southwold. He said: 'While there are policies in the designated town centre of Southwold that do control this type of change of use, this particular shop was outside of that zone and so not covered by that policy.

'This was a revised planning application as the previous one had been refused mainly on design grounds. There were no sound planning reasons for refusal as the revisions had addressed all the concerns that this council had raised.

'Waveney does of course remain committed to supporting local businesses generally, and in Southwold specifically, which is why we have in place strict planning policies that are there to help support and protect the heart of its town centre.'

John Bennett, the architect for the project, said: 'We would like to retain the building so it looks much the same as it does now and give it a new use which will enable it survive.'

Danielle Swanson has urged people to get in touch if they can help her business. Ring her on 01502 725146 or email at danielleswan@mac.com

• Southwold and District Chamber of Commerce is holding its annual meeting at The Swan, Market Place, Southwold on Wednesday.

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