Sunderland's Cole Kitchen receives wave of support after losing appeal

The decision has been branded "ridiculous."
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Cole Kitchen has received a wave of support after losing its appeal to continue serving hot food for takeaway.

Cole in St George's Terrace, RokerCole in St George's Terrace, Roker
Cole in St George's Terrace, Roker

Like many businesses in the city, the Roker favourite adapted its business model to ensure its survival during the pandemic providing a much-needed takeout service, which was in line with planning permissions at the time that had been temporarily lifted.

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In 2022, with coronavirus legislation withdrawn, the owners lodged a retrospective planning application to “formalise the business as a hot food takeaway” and continue the business in its current form, which had proved a huge hit on the seafront.

Due to an appeal being lodged with the national Planning Inspectorate, an inspector was appointed by the secretary of state to rule on the matter who this month dismissed the appeal, refusing the hot food takeaway and upholding the council’s enforcement notice.

Cole's hot sandwiches are a firm favourite on the seafrontCole's hot sandwiches are a firm favourite on the seafront
Cole's hot sandwiches are a firm favourite on the seafront

It means the popular business will now have to adapt its model once more, with the hot food takeaway service ending by the end of February, in line with the enforcement notice.

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Although it can no longer serve hot food for takeaway, Cole can revert back to its cafe use with permissions that date back to pre-pandemic.

Its hot takeaway options including its trademark Bodega sandwich, which scores of people enjoy for a walk along the beach, will be much missed, with hundreds taking to social media to support the cafe and express dismay at the reasons behind the planning decision.

Gaynor Clarke said: "Bad decision, local business, employing local people and serving food which is considerably healthier than the majority of places. Just because it is take away doesn’t mean it is unhealthy."

Shelley Rowe said: "Never heard anything so ridiculous. The amount of unhealthy takeaway food on just sea road for example just shows it’s nonsense!!  Greggs, bakery/butchers that sell pies, chips shops etc. People buy nice healthy sandwiches and take them to the beach to enjoy."

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Many have criticised the 'nanny state' of the council deciding what people can eat.

Emma Wilson said: "Very odd. Small local Sunderland businesses stopped but you have other takeaways within a 10-minute drive and McDonald's just down the road. Also, healthy or not it's not the cafe or the council's job to police what people eat."

Kristy Blakelock said: "Yet people can walk 10 feet along the road to a chip shop, where’s the common sense in this please?"

Still open for business

Cole is very much still open - but it will have to change its formatCole is very much still open - but it will have to change its format
Cole is very much still open - but it will have to change its format

On a statement on their Instagram page, Cole Kitchen thanked Sunderland and beyond for their support, saying : "A massive thank you to the thousands of people who signed our petition and supported us, it was really heartwarming to see.

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"We are obviously very disappointed about the decision and find the reasons behind it quite unbelievable, especially when there’s a Greggs and McDonald’s on every corner. No disrespect to Greggs, but we’re confident that our business isn’t responsible for childhood obesity in the local area.

"We close at 2pm. We do serve breakfast sandwiches, similarly to most other cafes in the area, but we also serve healthier vegetarian and vegan options and have done for the last seven years."

They also commented on the original ruling by Sunderland City Council, saying: "We find it frustrating that Sunderland council have made no efforts to support us or offer guidance in how to protect jobs or at the very least, express a desire to keep a thriving small local business trading in a difficult economic climate."

And, as previously mentioned, the good news is that the cafe can still stay open, but it will have to be in a new format which the team is exploring.

So what are the reasons behind the planning decision?

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This included Cole Kitchen being located in a ward (St Peter’s) where the obesity level of year six pupils was higher than 21%, with council planners arguing the hot food takeaway would “not support or improve the health and wellbeing of local communities”.

In addition, council planners said the hot food takeaway use would have an “unacceptable impact on the amenity of the area and the local environment by virtue of the generation of noise, disturbance and odour”.

Critics of the council’s original refusal decision previously pointed out that year six childhood obesity figures in St Peter’s ward were 21.3 per cent, just 0.3 per cent above the threshold set by the council.

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However, after the decision went to appeal, the national planning inspector said there was “no leeway within the policy to allow for any exceedance of the 21 per cent.”

The planning inspector added that setting this requirement aside because it was a “marginal increase, and in the absence of any other justification, would render it meaningless and unworkable.”

Other issues raised in the planning inspector’s report included odour control and a lack of “detailed technical information about the existing extraction system or the additional measures that might be implemented."

On issues around noise and disturbance, the planning inspector added the council’s policy requirements had not been met.

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The appeal decision report also noted the city council was concerned about “day-to-day comings and goings associated with the appeal site [being] significantly more intrusive to nearby residents due to the change of use” to a hot food takeaway.

The report added: “The appellant goes on to suggest that reversion to the previous café use would result in greater harm to amenity, due to customers waiting to be seated within the limited space available.

“However, there is little evidence before me to show that the previous use was harmful in this way.”

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