Wednesday, October 14, 2020

Popular Cafe Lavender retrospective planning application stacking up comments for and against on the Highland Council e-planning site.

 Gurnites who wish to get themselves up to speed with all the issues for and against the application may wish to head to the Highland Council e-planning pages here and read both the comments and the documents section. 

When this cafe opened up just after the lockdown restrictions loosened it was an instant hit and many folk could be seen enjoying refreshments in the summer sunshine (this thread on the Nairn Rocks Facebook group is full of compliments for example). Now with a retrospective planning application in the planners and councillors who will decide the issue have an increasing number of submissions to consider. 

Perhaps the Planning committee will be minded to consider some of the mitigation proposals from Nairn River Community Council listed in the text of their letter below:

Comhairle Coimhearsnachd Abhainn Narann

Highland Council Planning Department
Glenurquhart Road

For the attention of Christine MacLeod case officer

Reference 20/03552/FUL Retrospective part change of use of existing guest house to cafe (Class 3) and takeaway Cawdor House 7 Cawdor Street Nairn IV12 4QD
Planning Application.

We write in connection with the above planning application. We have examined the plans and we know the area well.

 Cawdor House B&B Cafe Lavender, retrospective planning application to include a cafe/ bakery and takeaway.

This is not an easy submission to write as there are diverse and sometimes contradictory  views raised by the various objectors who have posted comments on the Planning website.
We will try to address as many as we can.Some local residents have also emailed their concerns directly to us as a Community Council seeking our support.

In writing this submission Nairn River Community Council seeks to summarise written comments along with additional information collected by speaking with the Cawdor House owners (the applicant) and two of the neighbouring parties.

We have also tried to clarify some inaccurate information and conjecture presented in some of the written Objections posted on the planning site. Our clarifications are based on evidence observed by Community Councillors onsite and information provided directly to us by the applicant on questioning.

By doing so Nairn River Community Council have determined not to take sides but to focus on the facts.

We have also included here a list of recommendations for a number of ‘mitigation’ measures which we recommend could be included as conditions, which would require to be satisfied by Cawdor House owners, if the Planning Committee is minded to approve consent for this retrospective change of use Application .

Noise -Objections to the noise from the outdoor seating area.
This was described by objectors as cutlery and crockery noises along with conversation.
The café owners made clear to Community Councillors that they were willing to put measures in place to reduce or eliminate this noise.
As hours of business for the outdoor café are restricted to daytime, we noted that there would also be other background noise at that time from passing road traffic, and trains at the nearby railway station, which at times could be louder than the café noise.
Mitigating measures we discussed with the applicants to protect neighbours on the No 3 Cawdor Street side included
1/ raising the wall height with a fence to reduce ‘echo’ and deflect sound back into Cawdor House garden
2/ more robust screening of tables to limit noise and to prevent café customers from overlooking directly the neighbour’s driveway and two upstairs windows of No.3 Cawdor Place.
We noted also that the licence to sell alcohol, applied for and granted in 2019, does not permit the playing of music, live or recorded outdoors.
Limiting noise or disturbance is also in the interests of the owners to ensure the comfort of their residential paying guests.
To limit noise, traffic and disturbance, we suggest there may also merit in reducing maximum outside seating capacity by up to 20% next year from the 35 maximum cited in the application, to 25 adults at any one time. However we also note that based on this summer’s popularity of this enterprise, this could add to queuing issues at peak times.
Overlook Concerns that café customers look into the windows of No.3 Cawdor Street
We noted that the two upstairs windows in question at No.3 Cawdor Street are also visible from the pavement outside and from across Cawdor Street, as far back as the Post Office.

However, it is clear that without screening sound from the café is likely to be amplified by the side wall of No 3 Cawdor Street and hard for those neighbours to ignore, if at home.
We could see that this must have been pretty noisy, and potentially a source of stress and annoyance in the afternoons when the café was busy, for neighbours confined to their homes and gardens all summer due to COVID restrictions.

In summary to reduce noise and overlook – we recommend the following conditions
Mitigation Proposal No.1 – increase the height of the wall between Cawdor House and No.3 Cawdor Place using fencing to a height above the existing gazebo roofs(approximately 1 metre) . This will minimise ‘overlook’ and contain sound of café conversation. We have advised the proprietors to seek agreement with the neighbours before adding the fencing.

Mitigation Proposal No.2 – Review existing café table layout, to reduce noise disturbance, and invest in more robust ‘gazebos’ with ‘back walls’ to screen view to No.3 and to help deflect sounds of conversation back into garden.

 Parking pressures on Cawdor Road are a longstanding issue which predates the Lavender Café. With close proximity of two primary schools, and staff and customers from other local bars, shops and businesses all competing for limited parking space parking in the Cawdor Street area is at a premium. Highland Council recently added to this pressure by introducing 1 hour parking restrictions during the day between Cawdor House and the Classroom

Objection to owners ‘placing bollards on Cawdor Street to reserve parking’ – the owners reported that this did happen on only two occasions. Once when they had a delivery of liquid concrete for their yoga shed foundation and a second time when tradesmen required to deliver materials for refurbishment of Cawdor House. These were exceptional circumstances.
Objection to Cooking / Baking Smells
The kitchen is located on the far side of Cawdor House from No.3 and therefore far away from No 1 and 2 Cawdor Street.
 ‘Bakery’ smells have been cited as nuisance but we note no complaints regarding other kitchen smells more typical of a Scottish B and B – such as fried breakfasts.
Cawdor House Kitchen is little different in size from a ‘normal’ domestic kitchen therefore capacity for cooking and baking is limited. Owners told us that they have no plans to expand catering beyond supplying their B and B, café and takeaway operation
It was also noted that the cafe owners have already added a wooden barrier to increase the height of the stone boundary wall at the kitchen side ( No 6 Cawdor Street), to provide added privacy for these neighbours. Since this neighbour has also lodged a complaint that this screening is inadequate we suggest the following
Mitigation Measure No 3 – erect a more substantial visual barrier fence on top of wall adjoining No 6 Cawdor Street (similar to measure No 1) – to increase privacy and reduce overlook.
Objections to smell of cigarette smoke
Restricting smoking on the premises is an issue for the Applicant too as a hospitality business owner. They have permitted smoking in the past at one table only in the café area but told us that they were open to reviewing that policy. We suggested that they could consider banning smoking altogether in the food service area.
Mitigation Proposal No.4 – review smoking policy and either ban it altogether on the premises in outdoor food service areas, or at least relocate the designated smoking area (currently near No 3) to minimise nuisance to neighbours.

Complaint that there is ‘No indication that the café owners are willing to compromise‘
All mitigation proposals put forward by NRCC members were welcomed by the owners, and they showed us the measures they had already put in place on request to improve neighbour privacy on the Kitchen side of Cawdor House.

Alcohol Licence - concerns that Cawdor House proposes to hold larger ‘drinking’ functions including weddings, birthdays etc.
Below is the document granting the alcohol licence for Cawdor House.
It clearly states the conditions and times that alcohol can be served that are permitted.
The licence is for B&B residents only and terminates at 21:00 outside and at 22:00 inside. There is no provision in the licence for table service outside. As it is a small B&B establishment there is insufficient space to host weddings and larger events. The owners assured us that they had no plans to do so as this would compromise the peace and quiet of their B and B guests.
8.3 Ref: HC/INBS/645 Applicant: Partnership of Anika Schulz and Andreas Schulz, Cawdor House, 7 Cawdor Street, Nairn, IV12 4QD Premises: Cawdor House, 7 Cawdor Street, Nairn, IV12 4QD Type: On and off sales
There had been circulated Report No HLB/082/19 by the Clerk which advised that timeous notices of objection to the application had been received from Mr and Mrs Sinclair, Richard and Fiona Paxton and Mrs Jocelyn Ward. The Board was invited to determine the application.
The Licensing Standards Officer reported that the applicant sought to sell alcohol solely to residential guests who had booked accommodation at this well run premises. This would be an ancillary service to the main business of providing accommodation and food. The applicant had traded for a number of weeks in this manner under occasional licences with no issues arising. He recommended that a condition be attached to any grant of a licence to the effect that after 2100 hours, alcohol or non-alcoholic drinks shall not be consumed in any outdoor drinking area. The applicant was content with this condition and had advised that she was on good terms with her neighbours. He was confident that if the application was granted, the premises would be operated within the licensing objectives.
Ms A Schulz, applicant, confirmed that alcohol would be sold to guests only and it was in her own interests to ensure there was no noise and disturbance arising as there were other guests staying in the premises.
In discussion, it was suggested that the concerns expressed by the objectors were not directly relevant to this application as the sale of alcohol would be to guests only.
The Board AGREED to GRANT the application for a new premises licence subject to mandatory conditions, the local conditions and the special condition as set out at 7.2 and 7.3 respectively of the report.
7.2 Local conditions Should the Board grant the application as applied for, the Board may wish to consider attaching the following condition(s) from the schedule of local conditions: (m) After 2100 hours, alcohol or non-alcholic drinks shall not be consumed in any outdoor drinking area. n(i) No live or recorded music shall be played in any outdoor drinking area. 7.3 Special conditions The Board may wish to consider attaching the following special condition: Alcohol will only be sold to persons who have booked accommodation at the premises.
Concerns that Cawdor House has been operating a cafe business ‘illegally’ -
As a result of the COVID 19 situation the Chief Planner for Scotland issued a number of memos in April, May and July 2020 giving permission for businesses to operate outside normal operating parameters, and for planning regulations and enforcement to be relaxed during these unprecedented times.
Far from being illegal, Cawdor House’s ‘outdoor café’ was precisely the sort of business operation that the Scottish Government was encouraging businesses normally operating indoors to adopt to comply with COVID restrictions in challenging times –

PLANNING PROCEDURES AND COVID-19 2nd July 2020.The first page of this is below.
2 July 2020
Dear Colleague,
In our letter of 29 May, we encouraged a supportive, pragmatic and flexible approach to temporary developments and changes of use which would enable businesses to diversify or adjust the way they operate as the lockdown eases and many people can get back to work.
This letter seeks to build on that guidance, with a specific reference to uses of land which can already happen in line with time-limited permitted development rights, and also in recognition of current interest in temporary outdoor uses such as the provision of outdoor seating by pubs, cafés and restaurants, including beer gardens. As the hospitality industry re-opens with physical distancing measures, we want to encourage the sector to take steps to provide a safe and pleasant environment for customers. This will also assist the viability of the sector.
In the main, the most appropriate, straightforward and efficient way planning can allow for reasonable temporary changes of use during this period is through informally relaxing planning controls; particularly by agreeing not to take enforcement action against acceptable planning breaches that will allow for businesses to operate and for some normality to return to life within our communities.
Planning enforcement is a discretionary activity and Scottish Government policy and guidance sets out that planning authorities should act proportionately in responding to suspected breaches of planning control. We have written several times since the start of the COVID-19 outbreak to discourage enforcement action in different circumstances, to allow the effects of the virus and physical distancing to be addressed for planning interests. That remains a reasonable approach at this time.

Concerns that Cawdor House intends to develop a Commercial BBQ operation.
The owners have confirmed to us that they had no plans for a barbecue provision.
There has been conjecture in planning objections about a concrete slab recently installed in the Cawdor House back garden. This is not part of this Planning application and is intended as a base for an additional shed for the exclusive private use of the Cawdor House proprietors. The concrete slab is out-with the area marked on the drawing for this application. We were informed that the shed will be used by the owner for yoga practice – so not likely to generate any additional noise or cooking smell

Cawdor Street neighbouring residential properties were purchased in the full knowledge that there was a B&B and other hospitality businesses in the vicinity
When purchasing their homes the neighbours would have known that there could be future parking and noise issues from neighbouring businesses at the top of the High Street. There are six private residences in the area and six commercial businesses. The two closest (the British Legion and Classroom bar and restaurant) are both licensed premises, and both have developed out-door seating areas in recent years, certainly after the houses were purchased by the Cawdor Street residents who are now raising objections to Cawdor House outdoor operations
Café Operating Parameters and Opening Hours:
There are approximately ten members of staff involved with the Lavender Café not including the owners when operating.
Café opening hours during summer 2020 were 13.30-17:30, that is four hours per day, in the afternoon only. The operating hours of the takeaway, are from 11:00 to 18:00.

The proprietors have informed us that their average total customer through-put per afternoon during the opening period this summer has been 50 for the café and 15 per day for the takeaway,
This is an average of 12.5 café customers per hour. On the busiest day, during the summer, there were 150 customers in total per afternoon, including small children
This represents the outdoor café operating at maximum capacity of 35 customers per hour.
This level of business occurred only on two or three days in fine weather.
We appreciate that this is exceptional but can also appreciate that this volume of business is bound to generate significant traffic and noise in the area

Neighbour complaints that ‘the pavement is consistently blocked’ by customers queuing for both the cafe and the takeaway and ‘parking disabled buggies’
The customer figures above suggest that there were only a few days when this level of congestion is likely to have occurred.
We also note that due to COVID 19 restrictions and social distancing requirements, queuing has become a normal feature in many establishments
Owners told us that after current ‘end of season’ indoor renovations are completed and business resumes, later in October, outside cafe operations will be limited over winter to use of the tables in front of the house only, and not those on the side garden next to No 3.
We suggest two further additional mitigating measures to be considered before next summer season

Mitigation Proposal 5 – reduce maximum capacity of outdoor café to 25 adults at peak times

Mitigation Proposal 6 – review café service and table layouts, and screening to restrict neighbourhood disturbance, and to better accommodate queuing, disabled access and space for prams and disabled buggies

In summary, in considering all points of view as a Community Council, we can understand why this sudden and unexpected development over the summer has caused a degree of concern, annoyance and distress for some in the neighbourhood
It is also concerning that the applicant has not applied sooner to Planning for this change of use, but we do understand that the COVID situation has been unprecedented and unexpected
It is therefore also understandable that the applicant might seek ways to quickly adapt and sustain his business in challenging circumstances, at a time when Scottish planning guidelines were encouraging development of outdoor hospitality services and there was also temporary relaxing of planning enforcement to allow such operations, and because normal planning oversight activity was not possible in practice due to COVID restrictions.
This new cafe has attracted considerable custom both from locals and visitors, in the short time it has been open and is to some extent a victim of its own success here

We want to see Nairn’s local economy thriving but not at the cost of the wellbeing and harmony of the local community so would not recommend that SPAC consent to this application, unless a number of conditions are attached.
These would require that before next summer season, the applicant puts in place robust and effective mitigating measures for the longer term to minimise noise nuisance and disruption to the surrounding neighbourhood

Mitigation Proposal No.1 – increase the height of the wall between Cawdor House and No.3 Cawdor Place using fencing, to raise screening above the existing gazebo roofs (approximately 1 metre). This will minimise ‘overlook’ and contain sound of café conversation. We have advised the applicant to seek agreement with the neighbours before adding the fencing.
Mitigation Proposal No.2 – Review existing café table layout, to reduce noise disturbance, and invest in more robust ‘gazebos’ with ‘back walls’  to screen view to No.3 and to deflect sound of conversation etc back into garden.
Mitigation Measure No 3 – erect a more substantial barrier fence on top of wall adjoining No 6 Cawdor Street (similar to measure No 1) – to increase privacy and reduce overlook.

Mitigation Proposal No.4 – review smoking policy and either ban it altogether on the premises in outdoor food service areas, or relocate designated smoking area to minimise nuisance to neighbours

Mitigation Proposal No 5 - reduce maximum capacity of outdoor café to 25 adults at peak times

Mitigation Proposal No 6 – review café service and table layouts, and screening to restrict neighbourhood disturbance, and to better accommodate queuing, disabled access and space for prams and disabled buggies.

With regard to growing parking pressures in the area, we are of the view that these problems pre-date the Lavender Café and are part of wider parking capacity and access issues for the whole of Nairn Town Centre
We would suggest Highland Council keeps the current parking restrictions in Cawdor Street under review in consultation with local residents, and would suggest that it might also be helpful to trial reduced ‘restricted hours’ on Cawdor Street to better fit the needs of the area both for residents and visitors.
We would also encourage Cawdor House owners to direct their B and B guests to park their vehicles in less congested areas where there is free parking overnight such as at Nairn Station nearby, to reduce pressure on residential parking in Cawdor Street
Finally as a Community Council we would advise any local residents with mobility issues concerned about local parking access (including Objectors to this application) to apply to Highland Council for an on-street disabled parking space.

On behalf of Nairn River Community Council (NRCC)

Tommy Hogg
NRCC Chairman

A short disclaimer:
Finally, please note that our submission is in respect of the proposed development. While we have taken every effort to present accurate information for your consideration, we cannot accept any responsibility for unintentional errors or omissions and you should satisfy yourselves on any facts before reaching your decision."