Anger as residents lose fight against new bistro

RESIDENTS have finally lost their battle against a new bar and bistro in Ponteland.

A second appeal by Newco (Ponteland) Director Jonathan Stokes for a two-storey bar and restaurant in Bell Villas has been allowed by Planning Inspector David Cullingford.

The new business, which will replace the former Wine Rack off-licence that closed in December 2009, was given the green light at the fourth time of asking.

Northumberland County Council’s West Area Planning Committee refused an initial application in February 2011 on the grounds that it would be an unacceptable loss of retail space, and in July of that year Inspector Ian Jenkins agreed with its assessment.

Newco made another bid and the committee turned it down in January this year, saying more could still be done to advertise the premises as a retail outlet. But the company said it had carried out extensive marketing and there was no significant interest in the site from retail businesses or entrepreneurs so it decided to appeal for a second time.

The two applications generated almost 30 letters of objection and two petitions signed by 170 people. They said a lack of parking spaces would make existing problems even worse, and concerns about noise and odours were also expressed.

In his report, Mr Cullingford said: “I have found that the scheme would not adversely affect the vitality or viability of the commercial and business centre of Ponteland and that the marketing exercise has now resulted in a concerted and comprehensive campaign, sufficient to demonstrate convincingly that no alternative retail use of the appeal premises is likely to be secured.

“It is unlikely that the busy periods engendered by the appeal proposal would coincide with peak traffic flows or those periods when the competition for parking places might be at its most intense. And the proposed bar and bistro would lie within quite easy and pleasant walking distance of the two public car parks (the nearest being about 230m away) and thus be reasonably accessible to those car-borne customers out to enjoy a meal.”

Homes in Ryehaugh are close to the back of the building and residents addressed the inspector at the appeal hearing in May.

Resident Jennifer Hardy said: “We’re disappointed with the decision and concerned about what will happen once the bar and bistro is up and running. There’s a lot of angry and upset people, but I’m more demoralised about the situation because we have yet another eating and drinking establishment, which is not what we need in Ponteland.

“There will be even more congestion in our street from people parking their cars. I can’t see many people stopping in the public car parks, particularly when it’s cold or raining.

“Some drivers will park in the Sainsbury’s car park over the road and others will go to the Methodist Church car park and this will block spaces for regular users.”

A range of conditions have been attached, including that no openings of any kind, such as vents or windows, shall be inserted into the rear facade of the building and any existing opening shall be blocked.

A scheme detailing the design of sound insulation and other noise control measures needs to be submitted to the county council for approval.

Mark Brooker, senior planner at Storeys Edward Symmons which advised Mr Stokes, said: “We are delighted to get the green light for this project, which we believe represents the best use for the unit.

“Historically, the proposal had been recommended by the planning officers for approval twice, but in both cases the committee went against the officers’ recommendations.

“We have addressed all the previous concerns relating to the proposal and have demonstrated that, despite extensive marketing, there is no interest in this unit from retailers.

“Opening as a bar and bistro will be good for the area, creating jobs and meaning there is one less empty outlet in Ponteland.”