Council refuse plans for metal shutters on business which has been vandalised 15 times - because it’s Grade II listed and in a conversation area

The owner of a West Yorkshire cafe blighted by crime has been ordered to remove security shutters.

Smorgasbord, on Rawson Place in Bradford

Smorgasbord, on Rawson Place in Bradford, has reported 15 incidents of vandalism in recent years, including one last year where a metal beer keg was thrown at the door.

For years owner Arif Mehmood has been involved in a planning wrangle with Bradford Council, as he wanted to install external shutters to prevent crime and vandalism.

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The council said the building is not only Grade II Listed, but it is in the City Centre Conservation Area – meaning the authority had a legal duty to prevent any changes to the building.

The shutters would also go against the council’s general policy on roller shutters and planners argue that businesses should use either internal shutters or other security measures, and that external shutters leave streets looking “dead” and uninviting when businesses are shut.

Earlier this year Mr Mehmood installed external shutters without planning permission, and a retrospective application to keep the shutters went before members of Bradford Council’s Bradford Planning Panel this morning.

But after a lengthy debate, during which legal officers pointed out that the unauthorised work to a listed building had broken the law, the application was refused.

Dr Simeon Scott, representing Mr Mehmood, said: “Over the years the cafe had been subject to 15 counts of serious vandalism, including smashed windows. Internal shutters would not prevent smashed windows.”

He added: “As you may know, Rawson Place is in a very, very sorry state. There is graffiti all over the place and most businesses units on the street are not functioning. It is a no go area. The area is troubled by alcoholics and drug addicts.”

He said the regular targeting of the business by criminals was beginning to have an impact on the mental health of the 15 staff employed by the business.

Planning officers pointed out that the council had carried out numerous enforcement actions against other city centre businesses that had installed external shutters, and this had led to several changing to internal shutters. Numerous other local shops are secured by internal shutters.

They said Mr Mehmood had been told by officers that the Council would be unlikely to allow external shutters on the listed building.

During the discussion members heard that Mark Burns Williamson, former Police and Crime Commissioner for West Yorkshire, had written to the business suggesting external shutters were the only solution for the criminal damage it had experienced.

Recently Bradford had been awarded £2m from the National Lottery for the Townscape Heritage project. This would allow businesses to get grants to restore buildings to their Victorian glory. Rawson Place was one of the main target areas for the scheme.

Planning officers told members that allowing modern security shutters on a listed conservation area building would undo much of the work of this project.

Legal officer Andrew Maughan told members that they would need a “very, very high level of justification” to allow changes to the exterior of a listed Conservation Area building, adding: “As a Council our duty is to preserve listed buildings.”

Councillor Mohammed Amran said: “My issue is we don’t want to lose a successful business from the town centre. Are we putting pressure on a business to leave the city centre if we refuse this? If business start leaving the city because of crime I’m worried the centre will end up like a ghost town.”

Councillor Kamran Hussain said: “Arif had repeatedly tried to work with the council and asked to have external shutters. There has to be some discretion on this policy. ”

He said internal shutters could cost as much as £100,000 to install in the business, which could effectively bankrupt the cafe.

Councillor Brendan Stubbs said: “This is a difficult case. We have a clear policy in place. I sympathise with the business, but if we say they can go against our policies then we are also saying that to everyone with an enforcement notice against them. It doesn’t seem fair to other businesses who stuck to the rules.”

Members then voted to refuse both the planning application and a separate application for listed building consent.

The panel heard that Mr Mehmood had the right to appeal the decision, and urged him to work with planning officers to come to a solution.