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Scottish Government to Decide Future of 24 High Street

Local businesses wait as Scottish Government reviews appeal to convert former butchers into a hot food takeaway, whilst the owner tries to claim expenses from the council.

Scotmid’s application to change the use of 24 High Street from a retail premises to a hot food takeaway has been under review by a Scottish Government representative, after the owner appealed the council’s refusal to the application in February.

Despite objections from 22 local businesses, of varying types, and strong public condemnation, the appealer seeks to overturn the council’s decision to refuse, citing that the development will not adversely effect the surrounding area. In a planning document, Midlothian Council gives the following reason for the refusal:

The proposed development is contrary to Midlothian Local Plan policy DP7 as the cumulative effect of an additional hot food takeaway would adversely affect the vitality and viability of this part of the High Street due to the high number of hot food takeaways, cafes, restaurants, hotels and public houses in this part of the town centre. 

However Scotmid argue that the only future, the unit will have, is one serving hot food. They state that should the unit be granted change of use, they have two possible clients who are willing to let the £9,000 per annum unit. Shepherd Chartered Surveyors, letting agents of the unit, say:

Since the property has been marketed from September 2009 hot food is the only use requirement we have had for this unit. There are presently two live interests in the property for such use, both awaiting the outcome of the appeal decision.

Undoubtedly if hot food use is not forthcoming we foresee the property deteriorating further and remaining vacant for the foreseeable future.

The Scottish Government reporter, Mr Donald Harris, is to submit his decision by 28 May, giving concerned businesses and residents only two weeks to submit their views.

In a further complication to the appeal, it has emerged that Scotmid are seeking expenses from Midlothian Council saying that Midlothian Council have “not a shred of credible evidence” that the proposal would adversely affect the town centre. The council’s reasoning for refusal, it breaking policy DP7, is refuted as the development, in their opinion, is not “seriously harmful” as policy DP7 states. The planning consultants acting on behalf of Scotmid also add that the development does not breach policy SHOP3. SHOP3 is subdivided and says that change of use will be permitted in Penicuik if: A – It is demonstrated to the satisfaction of the council that there is no realistic prospect of the site continuing in retail use or C – The change of use does not create a street frontage where three or more adjoining units are in non-retail use, nor does it result in 50% or more of the town centre units being in non-retail use. However the planners do not refute subdivision B which states that COU may be granted if the proposal will lead to an improvement of the image and vitality of the town centre.

Derek Scott Planning said:

There is no policy support for the council to adopt such a position in terms of either policy SHOP3 which it has failed to refer to in the reason for refusal or Policy DP7 which it did refer to in the reason for refusal. The council’s position on this point constitutes, in my opinion, unreasonable behaviour on its part.

The final five words of that statement highlights the reasoning for their claim for expenses. They further state that the refusal was unnecessary and as such they wish to seek reparations for the further appeal expenses.

Midlothian Council refuted this request though, exclaiming:

While the officer’s recommendation was to approve the proposal the council members made the decision to refuse the planning application. There is nothing to prevent the members from doing so provided that their decision is based on reasonable planning grounds.

The council contests the appellant’s claim that it has “failed to give complete, precise or relevant reasons for the refusal of the application”. The reason for the decision is relevant, and clearly and concisely identifies the concern and the associated policy to which the council feels the development would be contrary.

The reason for refusal is entirely related to policy DP7 and not policy SHOP 3. The council considers that the proposal is not contrary to policy SHOP3.

While the appellant obviously disagrees with the outcome of the planning application this decision was reached in a reasonable way and therefore the council maintains that there should be no award of expenses against it.

These fiery exchanges between the parties over 536 sq.ft of retail space will ultimately reach a climax on 28 May as the Directorate for Planning and Environmental Appeals makes their decision from Holyrood on what the future holds for a former butchery on Penicuik’s High Street.

You are urged to have your say on the appeal as soon as possible. You can do this by emailing the case owner Fiona Manson – As this is late in proceedings please consider any responses at length before sending.

What is your view on the matter? Let us know below or email to submit an in depth reply for publication as an Editor’s letter.