Retail firm Euro Garages has spent almost a decade trying to win permission to open the coffee shop at the former 1st Dental surgery on Wetherby Road but their applications have been refused three times by councillors and then by a government inspector at appeal.
The most recent refusal came in 2019 when councillors went against an officer’s recommendation for approval to reject the plans because of concerns over road safety, idling cars and the impact on residents.
Now the developers have lodged a second appeal in what marks their best chance yet of winning permission.
This is because officers said they are in no position to fight the case for the council given their previous recommendation and that they had also been unable to find lawyers willing to do it for them.
It left councillors facing what they described as an “appalling dilemma” with two options on the table; take on the legal challenge themselves or withdraw their objection.
Coun John Mann, chair of the planning committee, said councillors did not have the legal expertise or experience to fight the appeal which would see them “batted for six by the professional lawyers of the applicants”.
But John Worthington, the council’s executive officer for development management, said officers could not stand successfully at appeal because their previous recommendation would “undermine” their case and that losing also risked legal costs of over £50,000.
He said: “The report that was put before members of the committee in December 2019 concluded on all issues that the scheme was acceptable.
“As with all decisions to refuse, that decision then has to be defended and as officers we can not then about-face and suddenly present an appeal to say actually we have now changed our mind.
“But where there is a defensible case, we will defend it, no matter what the cost.”
Meanwhile, Coun Robert Windass said he felt “betrayed and let down” by planning officers. He said: “We are here to make decisions and they say ‘we can’t defend so it’s up to you’ - that is wrong, wrong, wrong”.
Coun Pat Marsh also questioned: “Where are the residents’ voices here? We are supposed to represent these people yet we come up against a brick wall when we have got developers like these.
“They are determined to do what they want and they have got the money to do it. We are in a no-win situation here.”
It was agreed by councillors tonight that they would withdraw their objection rather than stand during the appeal which will still go ahead on June 15.
The applicant and objectors will give evidence during hearing across several days before a government planning inspector will make a final decision.
Speaking after tonight’s meeting, a council spokesman said not contesting the appeal “hasn’t been an easy decision to make” but was “the best way forward in this instance.”
They said: “Officer recommendations are always taken with a balanced approach and are based on careful consideration of a wide range of issues, including local and national planning policy, case law, consultation responses and anything else considered to be ‘material’ to the decision, including the comments of local residents.
“In this case, the officer recommendation of approval was overturned by the planning committee and permission was refused, which has led to an appeal by the applicant.
“Following this recommendation, along with feedback from relevant consultees and comments made by an independent inspector - who considered a previous appeal at the site for a similar proposal - we believe the most sensible and cost-effective approach would be to not defend the appeal.”