Wagamama’s planning application for a restaurant in Reigate was refused last night by Reigate & Banstead Borough Council.
The site is the ground floor of the former Edward Dean premises, on the corner of Bell Street and Bancroft Road.
The planning committee backed, by ten votes to five, an officer recommendation to refuse Wagamama’s application for a change of use from retail to restaurant.
Councillors heard that the odd numbers 1-35 of Bell Street are already down to 75% retail frontage, as against the 80% set out for such areas in the Reigate & Banstead Local Plan. The committee was also told that no information had been provided by the applicant on attempts to market the premises to a retailer.
During the meeting, committee chairman Cllr Mark Brunt (Con) emphasised that it was councillors who had set the policy that officers had to work to, and that this had to be followed unless there were exceptional circumstances. He also noted that the change of use had to be considered for a restaurant generally, rather than Wagamama specifically.
The pro-retail policy and lack of information on marketing efforts featured in comments made by councillors who spoke to oppose the application. Cllr Rosemary Absalom (Con) said:
“It’s flawed from the very outset, in the sense that it lacks marketing information. You can take any property and make any proposal you like but we have policies for particular types of retail, food, all the rest of it, for a purpose.”
Cllr Jill Bray (Con) said she was in the “policy camp” and that it was the precedent that worried her more than the specific case:
“If we just run a coach and horses through our policy for this one, then to my mind anybody else who comes forward and wants to do this, we really haven’t got an argument to stop them”.
Cllr Rita Renton (Con) spoke of the site’s prominence including for people exiting the supermarket, and added:
“We set the policy, we should stick to it. And let the marketing take place and we’ll see what happens.”
Chairman Cllr Mark Brunt (Con) said that the council generally asks for a minimum of six months of retail marketing efforts.
Those speaking in favour of the restaurant plan included Cllr Stephen Bramhall (Con), who explained the building had been built as a car showroom and never used as a traditional retailer. He said the Wagamama proposal would bring people into Bell Street:
“I think it’s just the right thing to do. Keep Reigate buzzing. In the evening you can’t get a table at a lot of the restaurants, so it’s needed. People just need this sort of facility and people are asking for it.”
Cllr Graeme Crome (Con) described the application as positive despite the problems over policy and lack of retail marketing information:
“It’s certainly a younger target market as well, which will again help revitalise the town to bring a different age group in, which will help potentially encourage other retailers to come into Bell Street.”
Of the other committee members speaking, Cllrs Sam Walsh (Con), Michael Blacker (Con) and Michael Selby (Residents) spoke for refusal, while Cllrs Christopher Whinney (Residents) and Derek Allcard (Con) spoke in favour of the restaurant plan.
Cllr Jonathan Essex (Green) initially set out arguments for and against agreeing the reduction in retail frontage, saying he was undecided, but later voted for refusal.
Reigate.uk has yet to obtain Wagamama’s reaction to the debate and decision.
Philippa Ratcliffe, Chair of Reigate Business Guild, said this morning:
“I am sure there will be mixed responses from our members, many of whom would have appreciated a chain restaurant on that site to draw footfall to that end of town but equally there were members who aired concern at the potential loss of retail space. There is always the option for the applicant to appeal, though that can be a lengthy process. It is a very prominent site in the town and we will certainly be watching developments with interest.”
At Wednesday’s vote, 10 councillors voted for refusal, 5 voted against refusal, 2 could not vote because they stepped outside the chamber briefly during the item, and 1 abstained (chairman, his normal practice.)
The debate can be watched on a Council webcasting page (after a few seconds that link will start at the correct time, and the papers can also be viewed there). The application itself (ref. 15/02290/CU) and related documents are also online.
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