Change planning policy to keep Bath's cafe culture thriving, says property expert
City leaders are being called to change their planning policy to allow Bath's cafe culture to thrive.
Property expert Mike McElhinney, from Jones Lang LaSalle, said outdated rules, which govern whether a shop can be converted into a cafe or coffee shop, are stunting the market.
Under planning policy at Bath and North East Somerset Council shop units in certain parts of the city centre can only be for A1 use, which is retail – bakeries also fall under this category.
However, according to Mr McElhinney, despite an interest by many independent and national cafe chains the council is not prepared to allow a change of use to A3 so that empty units on Stall Street or Westgate Street could be converted.
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He said: "That restriction was brought in at a time when there was a huge proliferation of banks and building societies. Its aim was to stop prime shops being turned into dead shop frontage. It also stopped fast food outlets opening on main shopping streets.
"The problem we now have is some local authorities regard coffee shops as A1, but some regard them as A1 and A3 mix, and others regard them as just A3. B&NES has taken the view that coffee shops are A3 so we can't get a change of use from A1 to A3 which means that would-be tenants are forced to look at more peripheral areas of the city.
"The policy could do with a bit of refreshing in the light of what is happening in 2012.
"We think there is scope for additional outlets. We probably get two calls a week from people wanting to open a cafe or coffee shop."
A spokesman for B&NES said the council is prepared to look again at its policy and a public consultation will be taking place next year that will consider changing planning restrictions that affect retail outlets in the city.
He said: "Our place making plan, which is one of the documents associated with the draft core strategy, sets out the development aspirations and the planning requirements for the delivery of key development sites.
"It includes updating and reviewing the planning policies used in the determination of planning applications.
"This will include a review of the current retail planning policies in the local plan. Public consultation on options for the plan will take place in spring 2013, with publication of a draft plan by the end of 2013."