Businessman fears losing £400,000 as decision date set for controversial coffee shop in former Cox Green schoolhouse

A businessman who has sunk over £400,000 into turning an historic schoolroom into a coffee shop will have a last-ditch application to open it heard on September 22.

Scott Richards owns the 1878 former Cox Green school in Offerton and has restored the previously dilapidated building. But Sunderland City Council planning officials have refused him amid fears for the green belt.

Mr Richards has applied to use the building as a “coffee house and kitchen” serving hot and cold food and drink, with indoor and outdoor seating. No objections have been raised.

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Reasons for refusal so far are “a detrimental impact on the openness, character and appearance of the countryside” and its “detriment of the visual amenities of the green belt”. Mr an upset Richardson disagrees, but has amended the application.

Scott Richards has ploughed over £400,000 into the former schoolroom, but still might not be able to open his coffee shop there.

“If the decision goes against us I’ll be left with a property that can no longer be used for anything except storage. I’ll have a very expensive shell. Our dreams and visions would be shattered,” said Mr Richards.

“No member of the public has made a comment either way; and anyone can do so through the council’s planning portal.

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“Under the rules you get a ‘free go’; new planning application without having to pay for it.

“We’ve taken the points from the first application and revised it. I’ve also engaged with a planning consultancy who have written me a planning statement addressing the key points for refusal.

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The physical conversion to a coffee shop is complete, but still can't be opened.

“They said it was an inappropriate development for greenbelt. The applicant has to demonstrate ‘special circumstances’ to overcome that. One of the special circumstances, for Historic England, is that the building is a non-designated heritage asset, but the council don’t recognise this.

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“The site’s close to Penshaw Monument and a business which could benefit National Trust visitors. We also expect to create at least 10 jobs.

“If we were given permission it would increase opportunities to access the open countryside. We’ve brought the access point closer to the roadside as Highways were concerned about visibility.

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“Cllr Katherine Mason-Gage has request the application be referred to the planning committee on September 22. Hopefully with her support we can speak before the committee.”

The view from the proposed coffee shop.
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To see and comment on the application, visit the council's online planning portal, reference: 21/01718/FUL.

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Scott Richards, who has spent over £400,000 converting the former Cox Green school room into a coffee shop.