Council red tape that ‘has forced business under’

Alley Palley in Morpeth
Alley Palley in Morpeth

A FIRST-TIME shop owner says she has been driven out of business within a month by council red tape.

Novice entrepreneur Lesley McDonald embarked on her venture last month when she took on a vacant unit in Newgate Street to open a new sandwich shop.

But barely had her Alley Pally signage gone up when she was visited by council officials, who told her she did not have the required permission.

And after two further council visits in a matter of weeks, she has decided to shut up shop for good.

“I’ve had enough. All I wanted to do was earn a little bit of money,” she said.

“I wasn’t competing with the likes of Subway or Cube, it was just a sandwich shop on the high street, but I had the enforcement officer out before the sign even went up.

“This was my first time in business – now I will go back on the dole.”

The Ryton resident decided to come to Morpeth for her first business as she previously lived near Druridge Bay and her daughter attends Chantry Middle School.

But problems began before she even opened her doors when a planning officer called on Monday, September 3.

“The day the people were here to put the signs up people were talking about the shop and asking what it was. I told them it was a sandwich shop and I was just putting the sign up, but 10 minutes later the council came to shut me down,” she said.

“They said I had the wrong permission to be a sandwich shop because it was classed as A1 and it should have been A3 or A5.

“As far as I can see, A3 is for a coffee shop and A5 is a restaurant. I brought up the wording and A1 is for sandwich bars so I suggested he should go away and do his research.”

Mrs McDonald opened the following day, but said she received complaints about odours as soon as she started cooking chips for a hot sandwich.

She offered to put an extractor fan in, but was later told that it would make the problem worse.

An environmental health officer visited a week later and Mrs McDonald said she agreed that the shop should be classed as A1.

But on Friday, September 21 a planning officer again called at the premises and said that as Mrs McDonald was selling hot food she needed A5 permission.

It was then that she handed back her keys.

“I have had so much grief over this shop,” she said.

“When the planning officer called I went through the whole story again. He said that because I was selling hot sandwiches I was classed as A5, but it doesn’t specify hot or cold food in the rules for a sandwich bar.

“There’s no point in applying for A5 permission because the planning officer said if I made an application it would probably be knocked back and it would cost a fortune to do it. It just wasn’t worth it.

“The people of Morpeth didn’t want it. It is not shops closing down because trade is hard that’s the problem, it is because of the reaction they get. This was only a little sandwich shop.”

The A1 status applies to shops, sandwich bars, showrooms, dry cleaners, funeral directors, hairdressers and other services, while A3 is for restaurants, snack bars and cafes, for the sale of food and drink for consumption on the premises. A5 status is for hot food takeaways – the sale of hot food for consumption off the premises.

A spokeswoman for Northumberland County Council said: “We have visited Mrs McDonald to provide both planning and environmental health advice in relation to her business – helping her to ensure that she operates within relevant regulations.

“We advised her that selling hot fried takeaway food would mean that the business is classed as A5 and would require a change of use planning application. She would also need suitable extraction within the premises to deal with cooking smells.”