Residents braced for a second battle of the bistro

ANGRY Ponteland residents are facing another battle of the bistro, two months after claiming victory.

When plans were put forward to turn the former Co-op store and Wine Rack in Bell Villas into a two-storey bar and restaurant, there was fierce opposition from neighbouring residents.

Locals were concerned about the potential for noise, odours and nuisance, as well as the hazards caused by inadequate parking facilities.

So they were delighted when Northumberland County Council rejected the bid on the grounds that it would be an unacceptable loss of retail space.

And their victory seemed complete when Planning Inspector Ian Jenkins upheld its decision on appeal in July.

But now applicant Jonathan Stokes has re-submitted the application.

Agent Mark Brooker from Storey:ssp says that extensive marketing of the premises has failed to find a retail occupier and the bistro would bring the vacant building back into use, as well as create up to 11 jobs.

But objectors are still concerned. Jo Cross, who lives in Ryehaugh, within 15m of the building, said: “We are all staggered about it because this was turned down by the inspector.

“We feel exactly the same about it.

“The traffic problems in Ponteland have exacerbated dramatically in the last year because of a new restaurant and the parking problems are terrible. Sometimes, it is a standstill, people can’t get in or out.

“This particular venue has no parking at all, apart from space for two or three cars at the front. The Highways department has got to look at this seriously now. It did object the last time, but on the day of the planning committee it withdrew the objection and we have never been able to find out why.”

Neighbour Jennifer Hardy shares the concerns.

“We are absolutely horrified that it has come back again. We can’t understand how they can do that when it has been dismissed by a planning inspector,” she said. “Parking is a terrible issue here. The Methodist Church Hall is used a lot, but people park there to go to the restaurant.

“About three weeks ago one gentleman was going up to one or two people and telling them it was a church car park so would they try to find somewhere else to park next time. One man took great exception to this and grabbed him by the lapels. These sort of things will only get worse if another restaurant opens.

“The officers in the council seem to think people will park in the two big car parks five minutes away, but in reality people are bone idle and will go in the first space they find, regardless of who it belongs to.”

Miss Hardy said public transport is not available in the village in the evenings, making the problems worse, and residents are also concerned about potential odours.

Ponteland Town Council Planning Committee Chairman David Butler said the authority stands by its original objections.

“We objected to it as a council the last time this came up and we were very pleased when the county council rejected the application and also when the planning inspector refused the appeal. We can’t see any difference in these plans to what was submitted before,” he said.

“We are still very concerned about various issues. It is contrary to various planning policies, we are concerned about possible problems that will be created with parking, there are highways issues and we are concerned about the potential smells and noise.

“There has also been a problem with sewerage in the area and any restaurant is going to escalate this.

“They are trying to get permission to open from 10am to midnight, but there is a residential area at the back and with the best will in the world, people trying to get into cars at night is going to be an issue.”

However, Mr Brooker, on behalf of the applicant, said: “Northumberland county councillors and local residents were clearly concerned by the potential impact of noise and odour nuisance and the impact of the proposal on highway safety.

“However, the council officers confirmed that these matters had been resolved satisfactorily and therefore these considerations did not form part of the reason for refusing planning permission.

“At the appeal the planning inspector also found that noise, odour and highway safety impacts were acceptable. Furthermore, the inspector was not unduly concerned by the introduction of another licensed premises in Ponteland.

“The inspector’s primary concern appeared to be the hope that a retail occupier might yet be found and the impact of the loss of a retail unit on the viability and vitality of Ponteland.

“Following the dismissal of the appeal the property has been extensively re-marketed with the hope of finding an occupier. There was some interest, but often from non-retail occupiers. The property has been vacant since November 2009 and the decision was taken to re-apply and to submit further information on the availability and mix of retail units in Ponteland.”

He added: “We are hopeful that following the extensive re-marketing and additional information that we have submitted that Northumberland County Council will recognise that there is no realistic prospect of this site being occupied by a retail occupier and grant consent to bring this long-term vacant property back into effective economic use and create nine to 11 jobs.”