Council bends its rules to approve a taste of France

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A PLANNING rule designed to limit the number of bars and takeaways in Albert Road has fallen at its first challenge, after planners approved a new cafe.

But planning committee members say the new venue will improve the Southsea street by offering shoppers a daytime rest.

The city’s planning committee voted to allow The French Cafe at 190A Albert Road despite new rules designed to stop food and drink sales venues opening on the road.

And councillors have admitted they fear the decision could cause controversy.

Cllr Terry Hall said: ‘This building has a wonderful history. It was a tea room from the late 19th century, and did very well for many years.

‘And it’s been empty five years now, with no-one showing any interest as using it for a shop. It would be good to open a cafe again there.

‘But to promote that idea will also be seen as going against our policy, which we all supported. It’s not easy to make an exception.’

The council’s cap on venues selling food and alcohol was introduced after pressure from Southsea Traders Association and others, who feared an ever-increasing number of takeaways would lead to large sections of the road being ‘closed’ until after dark.

But the association wrote to support Nigel Ward’s application to turn the empty building at 109A into a restaurant and bar, saying it would be ‘beneficial’ to the road.

They believe that because the building, between Leopold Street and St Ronan’s Road, will be open in the day, it will not detract from the street.

Cllr Mike Hancock, who first agreed to the ‘cap’ policy, also supported the proposals.

Mr Ward said: ‘There are 24 vacant units on Albert Road and this shouldn’t be one of them. It was The French Cafe in the 1920s and that operated until relatively recently. The building should be an active part of the city.’

The development, which will see a water feature installed and extensions developed at the two-storey building, sparked opposition from nearby residents who believe it could be turned into a pub if Mr Ward sold up.

But Cllr Jacqui Hancock said: ‘I don’t think anyone would turn it into a pub.

‘This will add something classy to this end of the street.’