No decision on whether Cookham High Street businesses can continue as they are

Adrian Williams

Adrian Williams
No decision on whether Cookham High Street businesses can continue

Two businesses in Cookham will have to wait for another day to hear if they will get retrospective permission to keep changes made at their High Street premises.

Parea Cafe and Start from Scratch Online Marketing set up at Cookham Arcade during the COVID-19 pandemic.

On advice from council officers, the cafe owners learned they could put in outdoor seating under a Government scheme to support businesses.

It opened up a patio at the rear, demolishing an old shed.

A second derelict shed was replaced and the Cookham social media marketing company moved in. Two members of staff now use the space as offices.

Two retrospective planning applications were made to see if the cafe and marketing company could keep using these spaces.

However, 20 residents have lodged objections to the proposals, considering the developments a ‘garden grab’ that could detract from the Cookham Conservation Area.

Objectors believe that that rear space is only for use as a residential garden for the neighbouring home and upper floor flat, not for commercial use.

Among those is Cookham Parish Council. Representing them, Dick Scarff of The Cookham Society came to speak at the Maidenhead Development Management Committee on April 20.

He said that the rear gardens are ‘peaceful’ and the introduction of commercial activity would ‘produce noise inconsistent with the quiet residential area.’

Mr Scarff said noise levels since the cafe’s expansion outdoors had reached 55 decibels, classed as a ‘serious annoyance’.

The parish council is also concerned that the shortage of parking in the village would be put under further strain by increased commercial activity.

However, a representative of Start from Scratch said that in the company’s observation, there has been no increase in noise levels as a result of the cafe.

Visitors are ‘mature and respectable’ and the noise (such as dogs barking or children) is in line with what you might hear in the other gardens.

The cafe’s application also has a support petition with 130 signatures logged as of April 4.

Yannis Apostolidis, owner of Parea Cafe, added that 95 per cent of his clientele walk there, causing no parking issues.

He believes that without the patio seating his business will struggle to stay afloat.

He asked that the cafe not be considered in the same light as businesses that sell alcohol or open late at night, since the cafe does neither.

Councillors acknowledged the need to consider the impact on businesses from the pandemic.

However, they felt that the question of whether the space can already be considered commercial was important.

There has been a ‘conflict in reports’ on this matter, noted Cllr Gerry Clark (Con, Bisham and Cookham).

He added that in terms of planning, commercial and residential designations are ‘extremely different’, even when considering small change such as the conversion of a shed.

Cllr Geoffrey Hill (tBfI, Oldfield) noted that until the committee knows whether the garden space can be considered commercial, any decision by the panel was likely to be incorrect and unsound.

As such, the committee voted unanimously to defer the proposal to another date, while officers assess the historical use of the site.

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