What the Southwold "Costa" approval says about local planning decisions

CostaI have to admit I am quite partial to a Costa Coffee. Of all the chains it is my favourite for a caramel latte. On a recent visit to Southwold it was clear that local people had other ideas - well at least when they are in Southwold - and did not want a Costa coffee to open.

Recently the matter came before a reportedly stormy meeting of Waveney District Council’s Planning Committee  and passed on the casting vote of the Chairman.

The meeting ended up in the same place most planning meetings do. Confused and frustrating.

The problem is members of the public (and even councillors) imagine they are there to decide if it makes sense for a planning application to go ahead. Councillors might think they are there to represent the views of those who elected them.

The Council Officers have a different idea. They think that Councillors are there to decide if a given planning application should be approved by applying the Council’s planning policy. The councillors are supposed to act more like judges than politicians.

Actually the Council Officers are of course quite right and there insistence on this is not because they are nasty jobsworths but because they know that if the Council does not do this the applicant can get them over-ruled with the Council taxpayers left to pick up the bill.

Of course the question is should planning decisions be taken this way? In the end Councils usually end up looking for planning policy to justify their decisions one way or the other rather than applying the policy and coming up with a decision.

It’s easy to get reverse snobbish about Southwold. A pretty seaside town with lots of part-time affluent residents. Is the reason they don’t want a Costa a bit snobby? Perhaps but is that the point?

The real issue is who should get to decide and changes coming soon to the planning process seem to be even further eroding what local democratic control remains over planning issues. A Government that has talked much about localism whilst in reality putting decisions in the hands of large corporations and central government.

This leads to the kind of arrogant approach we are apparently seeing here from Costa who rather than respecting the local democratic process and the 614 letters opposing the application (compared to 7 in favour) remind the District Council that they will just appeal and have them overruled. They are pointing out that they have more power than the council.

This is the same wrong-headed approach that has seen the nearby Beccles Free School approved. Locally made democratic decisions should be respected and Southwold should be able to reject Costa just as Beccles should the Free School.
Waveney District Council 1732835433644767136

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