COUNCILLORS have been warned they could end up with a large legal bill after refusing planning permission for a former business to be turned into a home.
Portsmouth City Council’s planning committee decided against allowing a closed chiropodists in Highland Road, Southsea, to become a house.
Its members argued it would kick-start the decline of the area as a shopping district and lead to other businesses moving away from the area.
This was despite being told by council officers that this was not a valid reason to turn down the application, because the Portsmouth Plan allows such conversions in that area.
Tory planning, regeneration and economic development spokesman, Cllr Luke Stubbs, said he thought it was a ‘terrible decision’.
But committee chairman and Lib Dem cabinet member for culture Cllr Lee Hunt argued he would not sit by and watch a prominent Portsmouth road fall into decline.
He said: ‘We saw the same thing happening in Fawcett Road, one shop became a house and within a short space of time the whole road was going downhill, and it has taken a long time for it to recover. At a time when we are trying to make the city look better we are entitled to look at the street and things we think will have a negative effect.
‘Doing this would have an adverse impact on other shops nearby and would start to undermine the economic viability of a row of shops.’
He added that the other reason for refusal was that the proposed appearance was out of keeping with the road.
Cllr Stubbs said the committee was going down the same road as planners in Gosport who had to pay as much as £100,000 for refusing consent for 14 flats because of congestion on the A32, despite not having a proper policy on the issue. He said: ‘This is one of the most foolish planning decisions I can recall. The development plan is central to the planning process; there is no plan policy to protect shops on Highland Road and that’s all there is to it.
‘For the planning committee to make one up on the spot is to invite not just an appeal but an award of costs. The chances are that council taxpayers are going to get a bill over this. The whole council approved the development plan.
‘No-one objected to it and frankly with falling demand for small shops nationwide, the only way to keep roads like Albert Road vibrant is to let shops in out-of-centre locations be converted to housing.’