Despite widespread objections to controversial plans for another coffee shop in the centre of Midhurst, the proposal has received the backing of planning officers at Chichester District Council.
They are recommending members of the district council’s north area development control committee to give it the go-ahead at their meeting on Wednesday.
Costa Coffee is widely believed to be the high-street name behind the application for a change of use of the popular North Street shop The Unusual Food Company.
There has been a storm of protest over the plans and coffee shop owners already in business have warned it could be one cafe too many.
Mary Geiss, joint owner of Ye Olde Tea Shoppe in North Street, told the Observer: “There are far too many restaurants, pubs, hotel, cafes and other eateries in Midhurst and quite honestly if the council grant change of use here, one or two of us could do down the pan.”
Now CDC’s own economic development team has come out against the proposals.
The team said they had recently surveyed the shop usage in North Street and found the ratio of retail and non-retail premises was a 60/40 split with roughly 17 per cent of the retail premises being charity shops.
“This gives us concerns over the potential impact that the latter could have on the reputation of Midhurst as a retail centre,” it said. “On balance the economic development service would therefore prefer to see this unit remain in sole retail use.”
The district council has also received some 17 letters of objection as well as a petition calling for the plan to be refused, signed by at least 30 people.
In addition town councillors have registered their objection, saying they believed it was contrary to the district council’s plan since it did nothing to extend the range of shops in the town and would simply further erode the retail base.
Among the objections Midhurst resident Dave West echoed the sentiments of many when he said: “The town desperately needs variety in its retail outlets. To allow further catering premises would, without doubt, affect existing traders.”
“Midhurst is currently awash with premises to eat,” said Rumbolds Hill resident France Sevene. “Allowing another application to go through will not benefit the town. Competition yes, saturation no.”
Lyle Steyn of Stedham said: “Losing such a fabulous shop as the Unusual Food Company will be devastating for the town – we need to keep this type of shop in Midhurst.”
Planning officers acknowledged the concerns of objectors in their report to committee members, but added: “It is clearly not the place of the planning system to prevent competition.”
The report added: “It is acknowledged the proposal would result in the partial loss of a retail premises.
“However given the premises would operate predominantly during shop opening hours and include a significant element of retail activity it is considered a business of the type proposed is compatible with the site’s town centre location and could potentially improve vitality by enhancing and prolonging the shopping experience of visitors to the town.”