Appeal decision awaited on Wagamama’s Reigate plans

 

Would-be customers are still waiting to see if Wagamama will win its planning appeal and be allowed to open in Reigate.

Both the restaurant chain and Reigate & Banstead Borough Council have now submitted their arguments to the Planning Inspectorate.

Wagamama wants to set up at the former Edward Dean kitchen showroom on the ground floor of 33-35 Bell Street, but needs permission to change the use of the premises from retail to restaurant.

Reigate & Banstead’s planning committee turned that down in April last year, chiefly because that part of Bell Street already has less than 75% retail frontage against a local policy minimum of 80%.

The decision proved controversial, with nearly 1,500 signing an online petition in favour of the Asian-style eatery coming to the town.

Wagamama’s appeal to the Planning Inspectorate argues that Reigate & Banstead’s local policies, set in 2005, have not kept up with changes in planning thinking, and in particular the newer National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF).

In the papers Wagamama’s agent JLL asserts that under the NPPF’s more flexible approach the council should have approved the change of use unless the harm of the scheme outweighed its benefits.

The council disagrees, contending that its local policies are still valid and are consistent with the NPPF, and that it is Wagamama who must show that the benefits justify an exception to the pro-retail approach for Reigate town centre.

Much is said by each side about the benefits and harms of switching the premises from retail to restaurant.  Wagamama points to things like the increased footfall that the restaurant would bring to that part of Reigate, with 2,500 diners expected weekly.  The council’s list of points includes the effect of the loss of shop space on customer choice and retail diversity, and how that would impact the vitality and vibrancy of the town centre.

When deciding to turn down the change of use, the council also took the view that there wasn’t enough information about attempts to market the site for retail.  Wagamama’s appeal says that in fact informal marketing of the site took place from October 2015 and that the site is unlikely to appeal to retailers.

In its submission the council links the harm/benefit and marketing arguments:

“… [Wagamama] advances a number of benefits associated with the proposal which are said to outweigh the harm caused by the loss of the A1 [retail] frontage which were fully rehearsed in the Committee Report.

However, in the absence of evidence of reasonable attempts to let the property for a continued A1 retail use, it cannot be said with any confidence that a number of these alleged  benefits – such as job creation, bringing a vacant unit back into use, supporting and enhancing the town centre’s retail offer, encouraging footfall, shopfront improvements and a commitment to recycling – could not equally be achieved through an alternative A1 use retailer operating from the unit, or indeed many other uses

In this context, whilst weight is attached to the potential contribution of the proposed A3 [restaurant] use to the lunchtime and evening economy, including through its complementarity with the nearby cinema, the other benefits such as job creation, bringing a vacant unit into use, shopfront improvements and recycling are not considered to be sufficiently unique, very special or significant and therefore attract limited weight.  On balance, it is not considered that the cumulative benefits outweigh the harm and justify the proposed use.”

Wagamama disagrees, pointing to the specific policy objectives its proposal would meet.

The chain’s initial appeal submission sets out the thrust of its overall case:

“The appeal case is that this application for a change of use from A1 [retail] to A3 [restaurant] use will support and enhance the vitality and viability of Reigate Town Centre through the addition of a high quality, well known national A3 restaurant retailer, and is therefore supported by national and local policies.”

And on the 80% frontage limit set out in the 2005 local policy:

“…  this level of A1 frontage has already been breached.  In addition, the general policy direction has changed since 2005, to allow for greater flexibility of town centre uses in light of changing shopping patterns and consumer expectations”.

No date has been published for a decision by the Planning Inspectorate, and reigate.uk didn’t learn more in a phone call to them last week.  The current published average decision time is 16 weeks from the “start” – which might suggest a ruling could come in late February.

Wagamama is also claiming from the council the costs of preparing its appeal, something which the council is resisting and which the Planning Inspectorate will also have to rule on.

All of Wagamama’s and the council’s arguments can be viewed on the council’s planning website – see below for the link.

Separately from the appeal, Wagamama has won permission from the council to open late, play music and serve alcohol if it does open up.  Customers would be served until midnight Monday – Saturday, and to 11.30pm on Sundays.

On signage, the council only partially approved Wagamama’s plans, turning down projecting signs because of position and lighting concerns.  Such refusals are not uncommon in Reigate, with amended proposals being submitted in many cases.

 

Links

Our previous Wagamama coverage, including the council decision and petition.

Planning paperwork:

 

 

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