In recent years we’ve dealt with a stream of schemes relating to food, drink and entertainment venues. These have mostly involved changes of use for various cafes, restaurants, bars, take-aways and event spaces, with the odd micro-brewery, gin-distillery and axe throwing venue thrown in. Some have involved individual entities, some mixed-up with other uses, but most have been in the city centre, with the sensitivities of Conservation Areas, listed buildings and residential neighbours to consider.
Whilst seemingly straightforward applications, getting these schemes right and ensuring the appropriate future-proof controls are in place to protect the amenities of neighbours has proved challenging. It’s been an exercise in sensitive planning and a reminder of the balancing act that officers have to achieve – securing investment in the city’s entertainment and night time economy, but delivering considerate and durable consents. Should you have a proposal for any of the A2-A5 uses, D2, Sui Generis or indeed a related B1(c) enterprise, and you’re about to embark on the permission process, here’s a checklist of issues that you might find useful:
- Consultation – this is a must if your proposed scheme is of any size and likely to be noisy! Make the time to speak with the local players (neighbours, stakeholders, amenity groups) before you submit your application, and reassure them that you know what you’re doing. Provide them with literature/scheme details and demonstrate that you can manage your venue professionally, and have their interests at heart. We don’t all live next to these premises and might sometimes underestimate their impact – be ready to address this from the outset.
- Principle – whilst we would expect food and entertainment uses to be a given in city centres, consent is not always so forthcoming. Check out the policy situation with regard to the local retail hierarchy, and ascertain whether your site falls in a primary or secondary shopping frontage. Any displacement of retail use will need to be justified. You may need to carry out a land use survey to demonstrate how your venue will affect the existing retail dynamic. Look at the quantity and distribution of existing entertainment venues and review any extant planning consents that could still be brought forward, to present an accurate local picture.
- Alterations – most applicants will want to retain or create some sort of active frontage for their venue. It’s likely that any loss of retail use would still necessitate the retention of an original shopfront. Look at the styles and formats of the surrounding premises, and consider how your proposals reflect these and improve the public realm. There’s no reason not to go contemporary, providing the design response is referential and high quality. Think about signage – prominence, illumination, materials – and again look to context. You might also need separate advertisement consent depending on certain criteria. Plus separate listed building consent if the building is listed.
- Acoustics – noise is absolutely key, particularly if you’re proposing any sort of space with live or amplified music. Be prepared to commission a survey of existing noise levels in the locality, and to report on the quality of the current building insulation. You can probably do all this under condition, but it’ll save time in the long run (and make for a more informed application) if you present it up-front. Depending on the outcome of the assessment, you might need acoustic mitigation for both the use and for any ventilation/extraction equipment (external fans can be noisy). Again, it’s worth providing the spec of any mitigation measures upfront, and you might expect to produce a Noise Management Plan with details of insulation, noise bafflers, silencers etc. If you have the ear of the local EHO team, it’s certainly worth approaching them pre-commencement to agree on the scope of any assessment and identify the nearest receptors and to confirm the relevant noise criteria which your development should satisfy.
- Management – ultimately, how will you run your venue? For a start, you’ll need to confirm your proposed hours of operation (early finish Mon-Fri? different hours for weekends and bank holidays?). You should expect a rigorous condition enforcing these. It’s worth checking out other consents in the area to see what has recently been granted, and it’s reasonable to argue for later hours in the city centre. Think about security, crime and surveillance matters (facial recognition quality CCTV is now not unusual), and your policies for crowd disbursement and the location of smoking areas (congregations of people are discouraged). If you can, seek advice from the Police at the design stage. They have invaluable local knowledge and can help you look at your proposal in a more security-conscious way, ultimately achieving a safer and more workable venue.
- Refuse and Recycling – an obvious one, but adequate storage for refuse and recycling is critical to any food or drink venue. Ideally, this should be within the premises, with easy access to the pavement for collection (you’ll probably want to engage a private contractor). Think about the timings and frequency of collections in terms of highway congestion and amenity impacts, and particularly how you will deal with noisy bottles! Check out whether your Council has any minimum standards or specifications for bin sizes and quantities.
- Ventilation and Extraction – as per noise, this is a critical one. It’s probably worth addressing this upfront if your design programme permits. You might well need different M&E systems for different parts of the venue and will need to think about the routing of any ducting, the location, height and prominence of any extract flues (particularly in relation to nearby windows), and the noise from any extract fans. You’ll also need to submit details for the spec and maintenance of filters. This is particularly pertinent if your venue is in a listed building and if you are near residential properties.
- Traffic – Whatever the scale of your venue, you’re going to receive deliveries – some daily, some weekly and some random. Expect to supply precise information about drop times, and to receive a tightly worded condition restricting these. Use or adapt existing loading bays to minimise disruption to the public highway, and be prepared to agree to a TRO if necessary. Consider the wider traffic impacts of your proposal (how will customers arrive, where are the nearest bus stops and taxi tanks?) and make provision where possible for staff cycle parking. Larger schemes are likely to need a Travel Plan Statement.
- Outdoor seating – all very appealing in theory, but not always so effortless in practice. If you’re thinking about pavement seating, you need to ensure that you don’t obstruct the public highway (at least 2m clearance is required around tables) and you should consider how such areas will be enclosed or contained, to make it clear that they belong to your venue. Provide a Management Plan to confirm how tables will be monitored when in use, and removed when not. Also, remember to include this area as part of your red line and serve notice on the Local Highway Authority – it’s unlikely that you will own the pavement.
- Conservation – Consider the impacts of your use on heritage assets, at both a streetwide and individual building level. You might be investing in shopfront restoration – but might not be in control of your litter generation. You might be reoccupying a vacant and unloved listed building – but need to lose some existing fabric to ensure it functions properly. Sometimes the regeneration of a property and the longevity of its use will be of sufficient public benefit to justify any harm including loss of building fabric.
- Semi-industrial activities – we’ve dealt with some brewery and distillery elements in our mixed-use schemes, and have offered Management Statements in support of these. Expect to supply details of exactly what equipment will be provided, what brewing/distilling processes are involved, what by-products are created and how intensive the whole activity is, possibly accompanied by a kit layout. You will need to demonstrate that this is a manageable B1(c) activity that can comfortably sit alongside town centre uses and residential neighbours without detriment to their amenity.
- License – finally, you will inevitably need a premises license if you intend to sell food, alcohol or hold events. Whilst this involves a completely separate process, there are inevitable parallels with Planning in respect of management and environmental control. Some clients prefer to obtain their License before their Planning (or vv) but you could run applications in tandem as it’s often the same Local Authority officers commenting. As per Planning, allow plenty of time to secure your License as it can revert immediately to a hearing should you receive just one public objection – it’s often worth getting some professional support to guide you through.
So, there’s a lot to consider and a fair bit of work required up-front, but it’s worth remembering that it’s in everyone’s interests for food, drink and entertainment uses to be appropriately sited and to function well. We all want diverse, thriving and vibrant city centres, but we also need them to be safe, properly managed and inclusive of all occupants. It’s a fine balance. We’re learning as each project comes along and are always open to new solutions – do share your venue stories with us.