Bistro battle residents prepare to fight again

CONTROVERSIAL plans for a new bar and bistro in Ponteland have been rejected for the third time – but local residents are bracing themselves for another battle.

The application from Newco (Ponteland) Director Jonathan Stokes for a two-storey bar and restaurant in Bell Villas, which was formerly a Co-op store and Wine Rack off-licence, was refused by Northumberland County Council’s West Area Planning Committee last week.

Members turned down the application last February on the grounds that it would be an unacceptable loss of retail space and in July, Planning Inspector Ian Jenkins agreed.

Councillors voted six to one against the officer recommendation to approve the re-submitted application, saying more can be done to advertise the premises as a retail outlet.

Dozens of residents, along with Ponteland Town Council, Civic Society and Methodist Church, objected to the bids.

Other concerns included noise disturbance, odours and nuisance from ‘inadequate’ parking facilities.

Their mood has not been helped by the covering letter to the decision notice from the county council to the applicant, which states: “It may be that it is possible to amend the proposal in such a way that a more favourable decision can be made and before lodging an appeal you may wish to contact the case officer to discuss the potential for changes to the proposal to address the reason for refusal.”

Ryehaugh resident Jennifer Hardy, who lives close to the building, said: “We’re delighted that the vast majority of the committee supported us at the meeting, especially as the council’s planning officers don’t seem too interested in what the residents of Ponteland and the Town Council, Civic Society and Methodist Church are saying on this matter.

“After hearing about the decision notice, we don’t know what’s going to happen next, but we wouldn’t be surprised if there is a fresh application or an appeal.

“It has been a long, long haul since this all began in October 2010 and we feel like it’s going to go on forever.

“We all recognise that having an empty building isn’t an ideal situation, but the applicant’s agent is determined that it will be a bar and bistro and nothing else.

“We need more retail outlets, there are enough places in Ponteland where people can eat and drink.

“The congestion is pretty bad now with people parking in our street and at the Methodist Church to go to The New Rendezvous next door, so it will be even worse if the bar and bistro was to open.”

A county council spokeswoman said the wording in the covering letter to the applicant was standard advice that is given to all those whose bids are refused.

Mr Stokes was successful in his bid for a premises licence last April, which will allow staff to serve alcohol if planning permission is granted.