Second chance for Cox Green coffee shop plans following £400,000 investment as planning chiefs agree to delay decision

Councillors have delayed making a decision over whether a businessman who has sunk over £400,000 to turn a historic schoolroom into a coffee shop will be allowed to open.

Scott Richards owns the former Cox Green school house in Offerton, built in 1878, and has restored the previously dilapidated building as he looks to run a “coffee house and kitchen” from the site.

Hide Ad

Those proposals went before councillors last week (Thursday, September 22), with Sunderland City Council’s planning department recommending they were again refused, claiming the scheme would cause “substantial harm to the green belt”.

Scott Richards, who has spent over £400,000 converting the former Cox Green school room into a coffee shop.
Read More
Staff at Sunderland’s Grundfos plant set to strike over pay row

However following a passionate speech from Mr Richards outlining why the proposals should be approved, councillors moved instead to defer making a decision, to allow for a site visit to be carried out first.

Hide Ad

Addressing the city’s Planning and Highways Committee, Mr Richards said the work met the criteria of “very special circumstances” to allow green belt development and hoped “common sense would prevail”.

He said: “It’s classed as a non-listed heritage site. That building, when I bought it last year, was dilapidated and dropping to bits, it was ready to be knocked down.

Hide Ad

“Surely that building should be kept in use, I’ve spent in excess of £200,000 converting the building, the roof was taken off in a big storm in November, which cost me another £40,000.

“The benefit to the public far outweighs any perceived harm to the green belt. I’ve been stopped in supermarkets on a daily basis, everybody wants this, the only person that seems to be objecting is the planning officer.”

Hide Ad

He added the proposals will create “in excess of 10” jobs and would attract trade from visitors to Penshaw Monument and nearby popular walking routes.

In response to specific concerns around how car parking plans would impact the green belt, he added the area is already informally used for such use and there would be “no required works” to implement the parking spaces.

Hide Ad

A report from planning officers had argued the proposal results in “substantial harm to the green belt by reason of inappropriateness and other harm”, which the benefits do not outweigh.

It added: “Specifically, the detrimental impact of the development upon the openness of the green belt, and the adverse visual impact of the development.”

Hide Ad

After hearing the applicant’s comments, Councillors Stephen Foster and James Warne both voiced support for a site visit to view the area in question, before making a decision, which was also backed by other members of the panel.

Conservative group leader Councillor Antony Mullen claimed the application was “comparable” to previous proposals for a preschool play centre near Sunderland’s West Park.

Hide Ad

Those plans were ultimately approved in 2018 due to the benefits they would bring residents, despite being recommended for refusal by officers over green belt concerns.

The application will be considered again by the Planning and Highways Committee at a future meeting, after councillors have visited the site.