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Wheelchairs win in Harold Place application refusal  

The controversial restaurant that Hastings Borough Council (HBC) applied to itself to build was voted down 7 – 1, with 2 abstentions.  Bernard McGinley reports on planning disarray, and the platform lift the planning committee finally deemed ‘unsuitable’. 

The proposed town centre restaurant (case HS/FA/21/00905) was a very peculiar case. Following the committee report,  that suppressed what the objections were, the Assistant Planning Manager reported to the meeting complaints about

•   Quality of the officer report  

… without actually mentioning what the issues and suppressions were.  Many objections had cited disability rights, wheelchair users, the Equality Act 2010, and disability discrimination, and explained how a platform lift was not acceptable.  The draft minutes again suppress these issues.

The committee report’s recommended breach of the Equality Act lacked a legal opinion on the tenability of that proposal.  Breezy assurances were given that experts found the design acceptable, and environmental health issues were taken care of (such as the proximity of food and toilets), but again detail was lacking.  

The Assistant Planning Manager confirmed that there is no statutory requirement for anyone to undertake pre-application consultation, but had nothing to say on whether HBC (as the applicant here) could set an example. 

Why the matter was to be referred to Building Control only after this decision was also not explained.  Repeated reference to considering the application ‘on its merits’ was unhelpful, as those merits were (at best) obscured.  Cllr Foster was concerned why – given the HBC Climate Emergency Strategy – the empty properties around the town centre were not relevant here as a planning consideration.  (As the Deputy Leader of HBC said in March 2022, ‘our priority now has to be to protect and invest in our green spaces, and wherever possible reuse existing buildings rather than build new ones’.)

It was not explained to the meeting why the lift was added to the application in December, a clear afterthought. 

Between them, Cllrs Bishop and Beaver made an informed critique: she of the inadequate design and the poor staff facilities and conditions of an unbuilt building, while he pointed out planning policy requirements and pars 3.21 and 3.22 of Building Regs M (vol 2).

Against that, Cllr Roark thought the Loungers cafés such as in Lewes and Brighton were reassuring, and didn’t have the same design concerns (about these old buildings). Committee Vice-Chair Cllr Cox was forthright, and thought Loungers plc was ‘a reputable chain’ [48:24–7 of the recording], though others know it for zero-hours contracts and low pay. She concluded:

“This is a wholly appropriate use of this space… I think it is a good use and a good design.  I don’t have a problem with it and I will definitely be supporting it.  [55:55 – 56:57]”

A few minutes later she failed to support it, and abstained.  This is the same Cllr Cox known to be ‘passionate’ about the Global Age Friendly Cities project – but is happy to provide substandard facilities for the disadvantaged and call them ‘good design’.  

Cllrs Cox and Roark were deeply unconvincing in endorsing Loungers. Both voted to abstain, whereas Cllr Roberts, Chair, voted in favour of the HBC restaurant application.  Those against approval were Cllrs Bishop, Beaver, Foster, Bacon, Marlow-Eastwood, Williams and Sinden. 

Unsuitability and disabililty discrimination

The basis for refusal was made formally clear: 

The proposed development is not considered fit for purpose in respect of its internal layout resulting in poor people and staff movement between floors and an unsuitable lift. The development is therefore contrary to paragraphs 8, 130 and 134 of the National Planning Policy Framework [NPPF].

The town centre has other sites

Previously, the HBC Communications Office stated mistakenly that they could not comment further on their own case.  Neither they nor the architects nor the Planning Vice-Chair could show how the application was not a matter of disability discrimination, though they had the opportunity to do so.

In the end the refusal was for ‘an unsuitable lift’ and breaches of central government’s NPPF planning requirements.  The original HOT headline

No lift for Council’s upstairs town centre restaurant

was vindicated.  The platform lift did not meaningfully exist.

The wheelchair issue got less attention than expected.  But the application  – colloquially known as Mugsbro Lounge – may yet be back in some revised form.

The committee’s video discussion runs from 26:00 to 1:00:42, and was preceded by the Harrow Lane Playing Fields case (HS/DS/21/01044, development approved 5-3 with 1 abstention).  Meanwhile planning department coherence remains an issue.

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Posted 21:51 Wednesday, Mar 30, 2022 In: Home Ground

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