Call for rethink in planning row over Exmouth business
PUBLISHED: 12:30 29 April 2016
An Exmouth councillor has called on district planners to reconsider a ruling which could force a town centre café/bar to close.
Spoken, in The Strand, has been refused listed building consent for the removal of internal plaster by East Devon District Council (EDDC).
The owner of the business, George Nightingale, says he would face a £10,000 bill to undo the work, which would threaten its viability.
The application was retrospective, but Mr Nightingale says he worked with EDDC officers throughout the process.
EDDC argues that it has taken a ‘pragmatic’ approach, and could have taken legal action.
The council says the plaster has historic merit, but town ward Councillor Bill Nash disagrees, saying it could not be original to the building, as it was gutted by a fire during World War Two.
Planning documents submitted by Spoken say the plaster was only seven years old.
EDDC also raised concerns about wooden flooring being replaced, but Mr Nightingale has been told he can keep the new floor, with previous floorboards having been rotten.
Cllr Nash said: “I would never criticise a specialist officer, but I think there have been three different people involved, and maybe the wires have got slightly crossed, and I think they need untangling and for it to be looked at again.
“Spoken would be an awful loss to the town [if it closed].”
Mr Nightingale said: “There’s a responsibility to look after listed buildings, but the arguments put forward by East Devon, I feel, are unjustified.
“They want me to plasterboard in 19th century features – that’s not in keeping with the 19th century.
“I didn’t think that seven-year-old plaster was a heritage asset.
“Throughout the project we were working with officers and building control. It’s not that I’ve got sour grapes as to the outcome.
“It’s very worrying as Exmouth is struggling to attract businesses into the town centre and our efforts are being hindered by the very people who are there to try and help us.”
EDDC officers have also criticised new signage at Spoken, saying it should be wooden, but Mr Nightingale argues that signs in this style have been there for 11 years and that they match others in The Strand.
Mr Nightingale says he plans to enter the planning appeal process having garnered support from the town, and so far has 1,400 signatures on a petition backing him.
An EDDC spokesperson said: “The council was made aware of works that had taken place to a 19th century listed building without consent.
“This included removal of historic floor beams, sandblasting of walls and erection of adverts.
“The works which have been carried out are not satisfactory given the historic nature of the building.
“In addition, the sign which has been installed is not considered to be sympathetic to the conservation area.
“It is an offence to carry out works to a listed building without consent and the council would usually proceed straight to prosecution.
“However, in light of the council’s support for the business, the council took a pragmatic decision to work with the applicant and provide an opportunity to submit an application to see if the works could be justified.”