The fight goes on against controversial Starbucks drive-thru plans for Harrogate

Harrogate residents alarmed by the prospect of a new Starbucks drive-thru near what they say is already a "very busy, dangerous junction" say they will battle on.

Wednesday, 19th May 2021, 9:50 am
Site of a dispute - The former dental building on Wetherby Road in Harrogate which may become a Starbucks drive-thru. (Picture Gerard Binks)

Despite last week's major setback when Harrogate councillors opted not to continue the fight against a controversial plan on Wetherby Road submitted by Euro Garages which goes to appeal next month, the 'No To Starbucks Campaign' is not giving up the fight.

Harrogate Borough Council had previously rejected plans for the new drive-thru at a former dentists near Woodlands corner three times over concerns on highway safety, air quality and the living conditions of nearby residents in regards to noise and increased traffic.

Supported by council opposition leader Coun Pat Marsh, residents are still hoping common sense will prevail after last weeks' U-turn, made after officers said there was no prospect of a successful appeal on planning grounds.

One Woodlands resident told the Harrogate Advertiser that nearly everyone they spoke top on the subject was against it and had been since the proposals for a drive-thru were first raised in 2012.

The resident said: "I have had only one or two passing comments in favour of it in the 10 years this wrangle has been going on, and this was by youngsters who either don’t drive, or who just love a Starbucks! But I do understand that their comments must not be ignored.

"On the whole, nearly everyone I speak to is against the idea. They just can’t believe that it could even be considered on this very busy, dangerous junction."

As the battle over the plans dragged on from 2012 onwards, a key moment came in August 2017 when Euro Garages lodged an appeal after their application was rejected again by Harrogate Borough Council.

To residents' relief, a representative of the Government Inspectorate subsequently backed the council’s decision on the grounds that a business at the site would cause “unacceptable” harm to the living conditions of nearby residents.

However, in an updated planning statement in 2019, Euro Garages submitted a revised scheme after what they said was "very careful consideration" of the details of the inspector’s ruling.

The company's revised plans included a reduction in the size of the proposed building to allow for an increased amount of landscaping between the business and neighbouring properties, while parking had been relocated to the front of the unit further away from existing dwellings.

The Harrogate Advertiser asked Euro Garages for a comment but one was not yet forthcoming on going to press.

Speaking last week after the latest twist in the long-running saga, Harrogate Borough Council's cabinet member for planning Coun Tim Myatt said the council's ability to fight on was fatally compromised by the inability to find any planning consultants willing to back them in law.

Coun Myatt said: "When councillors refused the Starbucks drive-thru application against officers' advice, officers tried to find a planning consultant who would defend the position voted for by councillors.

"All the planning consultants they approached would not do so because they said the decision was indefensible in planning law."

No one opposed to the plans denies the derelict former dentists building at 112 Wetherby Road is in need of redevelopment.

But Coun Pat Marsh, leader of the Opposition at Harrogate Borough Council, said a drive-thru was not appropriate in that location and she still supported residents in the dispute.

Coun Marsh said: "Residents are up in arms about Harrogate Borough Council’s decision not to defend its refusal of the Starbucks Drive Thru coffee shop next to Woodlands junction.

"This site has needed to be developed for a long time and housing and offices would be options to look at but the owner’s Euro Garages, who own the garage opposite, are desperate to build a drive thru Starbucks.

"Residents and road users have grave concerns on traffic congestion and car manoeuvres in this area and the pollution from idling cars on the site.

"The hours of operation from 7am to 10:pm, seven days a week, would mean that there would be no respite for local residents, who live just feet away.

A resident explained the reasons why opposition to having a Starbucks drive-thru on that site had not weakened over an entire decade.

The resident said: ""Ask anyone who lives in or regularly visits Harrogate and they will tell you what a nightmare it is navigating through the Woodlands Pub junction on the A661 Wetherby Road.

"Already an Air Quality Management Area, the road is notorious for traffic jams and frustrated drivers!

"It seems incredulous that there is yet another planning appeal to build a Starbucks Café with Drive-Thru on the site of the old Dental Laboratories – situated in the heart of this busy junction.

"Please let common sense and the local knowledge and experience of the people of Harrogate prevail

"Yes, the site is an eyesore and in desperate need of development and everyone who lives in the Woodlands area wishes it to be smartened up – but this really is not the answer."

But Coun Tim Myatt said, when a decision to refuse an application is made for sound planning reasons, the council can, and does, mount a vigorous defence of the decision should the applicant choose to appeal to the national planning inspectorate.

Coun Myatt said: "In the past 12 months, the council has successfully defended more than 80 per cent of decisions at appeal, and has the financial ability to defend cases where the council has a strong case and therefore a chance of being successful.”

"The inspectorate will reach a decision based on planning considerations alone, and it is therefore important that decisions to reject applications are based on sound planning reasons.

"In the case of the drive-through on Wetherby Road, officers made councillors aware that they did not feel they could defend the decision at appeal if councillors chose to reject the application. That is because the planning grounds for refusal were weak. "

Despite last week's setback, Lib Dem Coun Marsh is urging everyone to continue to back the No To Starbucks Campaign' and take the fight to the latest planning appeal next month.

She said: "Because the council will not defend the council planning committee's original decision, it is now up to local residents and myself to attend the appeal to defend the council’s decision and make the case on why this is the wrong site for a drive-thru coffee shop.

"The council said it could not find any experts to defend the refusal but I am sure that there must be experts out there who would be able to help and guide the residents in this very important case.

Count Marsh continued: "This feels like a case of bullying - developers can ask for costs against the council and because this is public money council's often back down because they are concerned at the risk to the public purse, this is wrong on so many levels.

"Already it is an uneven process developers have a right to appeal but local residents don’t if they have what they feel is inappropriate development pushed on them.

Count Marsh added: "If anyone can and will help, please do contact Councillor Pat Marsh on [email protected]

"The residents would also like help and support from their local MP Andrew Jones.

"Please join the 'No To Starbucks Campaign'."

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