Local councillors win site inspection concession in row over McDonald’s and Starbucks plans

Composite image showing McDonald's and Starbucks logos overlaid on a photo of the Willow Brook Centre site.

A decision on whether the Willow Brook Centre will be allowed to construct two drive-through food units in the north-eastern corner of its car park, just 25m away from residential properties in Wheatfield Drive, has been deferred for at least a month.

The delay, to allow time for councillors on South Gloucestershire Council’s (SGC’s) Development Management Committee to undertake a site inspection visit, was agreed after planning officers who had recommended approval were faced with a barrage of criticism from a spokesperson representing residents of nearby properties, supported by Bradley Stoke Town Council’s deputy town clerk and three South Gloucestershire councillors representing wards in Bradley Stoke and Stoke Gifford.

The controversial food units, which are anticipated to be occupied by McDonald’s and Starbucks, form phase 1 of the proposed development, for which full planning permission is being sought. The application also seeks outline permission for phases 2 and 3, which include the addition of two new units on the end of the existing retail terrace (beyond Poundstretcher) and rearrangement of the car park.

Meeting in Kingswood on 24th January, the committee heard first from the developer’s agent who stressed that the council’s officers now have no objections to the scheme after minor amendments had been made to the plans and a specialist report on night time noise had been commissioned and its conclusions accepted. He added that the new food units are essential to maintain the viability of the centre at a time of declining retail sales on the high street.

The meeting then heard from a representative of the Dewfalls and Wheatfield Drive Residents Association (DAWDRA), who summarised some of the points raised in the 145 public objections lodged against the scheme, which include concerns over noise, litter, cooking smells and anti-social behaviour. The representative said her group had met with the developers, but they had shown no willingness to compromise, in particular with regard to the question of why the food units weren’t being built closer to the main buildings at the centre (and thereby much further away from residential properties).

Willow Brook Centre expansion masterplan (annotated extract).

Above: Willow Brook Centre expansion masterplan (annotated extract)

The latter point was echoed by Cllr Sarah Pomfret (Bradley Stoke Central and Stoke Lodge) who had forced the holding of the meeting by ‘calling in’ the application. She pointed out that keeping the centre buildings away from residential properties had been a design objective of the original Willow Brook Centre masterplan.

Next up was Cllr Brian Hopkinson (Bradley Stoke Central & Stoke Lodge) who pointed out that residents in Dewfalls Drive and Wheatfield Drive would also suffer through the main access road into the centre being realigned, in phase 2, to “come right up to the backs of houses”.

He also questioned whether the centre needed extra retail space when it currently has vacant units and said he feared large volumes of late night traffic would be attracted up the recently opened Stoke Gifford By-Pass to access the new drive-through units.

Cllr Keith Cranney (Stoke Gifford) also echoed the sentiment that the application went against the design principles that were campaigned for many years ago and said the town centre was at risk of being turned into a “glorified food court”.

With submissions from the public (and councillors not on the committee) concluded, attention turned to the nine-member committee who would be asked to make the final decision.

At this point, the principal planning officer issued advice against arriving at a split decision (i.e. approving just part of the application and refusing the rest) as this would be considered to materially change the application due to the interdependency of the phases.

Cllr Dave Hockey (Frampton Cotterell) picked up on the earlier references to the original masterplan and asked how it envisaged additional retail units at a future date, but the principal planning officer was having none of it, saying that the centre had been built in accordance with approved plans and all conditions attached to the permission had been satisfied.

Next to speak was Cllr Roger Avenin (Bradley Stoke South) who proceeded to tear into the case officer’s report, questioning the acceptance that there would be little impact on traffic flows and describing the transport officer’s assessment as “pure Alice in Wonderland” fiction.

The case officer’s assessment that the location of the proposed drive-through units “may not be ideal but is to some extent dictated by the operational demands of the facility” was, in Cllr Avenin’s opinion, another way of saying “what they want, they get”.

After going on to trash several other aspects of the report, sometimes with reference to specific policies of the council, Cllr Avenin then moved a motion, against previous advice, to agree a split decision that refused permission for the food units but granted permission for the shops.

Before a vote was taken, the meeting heard again from the principal planning officer who corrected Cllr Avenin on some of his policy references and pointed out that drive-through food units were defined as an “appropriate use” for a town centre location.

At this point, Cllr Michael Bell (Rodway) interjected to suggest that members of the committee carry out a site inspection visit before refusing any or all parts of the application, as such a decision could leave the council open to challenge through a formal appeal.

The suggestion received support from Cllr Dave Hockey, who described the application as “very sensitive”, adding: “It’s vital that we make the right decision”.

On being put to a vote, the motion to carry out a site inspection visit was passed by seven votes to one.

The Journal understands that the site inspection visit is likely to take place on Friday 8th February, with the application set to be reconsidered by the committee on Thursday 21st February.

Under SGC’s revised system for handling planning applications, introduced on 1st November 2018, members of the pubic are no longer permitted to attend site inspection meetings. Instead, all important local information is expected to be put forward by local ward members and town council representatives.

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This article originally appeared in the February 2019 issue of the Bradley Stoke Journal magazine (on pages 4 & 5). The magazine is delivered FREE, EVERY MONTH (except August), to ALL 8,700 homes in Bradley Stoke. Phone 01454 300 400 to enquire about advertising or leaflet insertion.

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