In a case which underlines the importance given by planners to protecting the retail character of urban shopping areas, a bank has failed to convince the High Court that it was wrongly refused planning consent to open a branch in a popular, boutique-lined, London street.
The bank wished to open a branch on the site of a long-vacant shop in Praed Street but was refused the necessary permission for a change of use by Westminster City Council on the basis that the proposal breached its policy objective of maintaining the vitality and viability of shopping areas in the borough.
The bank subsequently argued before a planning inspector that it wished to provide a full banking service on the premises and that its proposal would bring investment, employment and footfall benefits to the area. It was also submitted that the branch would improve the visual appearance of the street-scape.
However, in confirming the council's decision, the inspector found no evidence that retail use of the premises would be unviable in the future. He concluded that the bank’s proposal was contrary to local planning policies and would have a materially harmful impact on the shopping area.
In dismissing the bank’s appeal against that decision, the Court rejected arguments that the inspector had applied an overly stringent test in requiring the bank to show that its plans would actively benefit the area’s vitality. The inspector had correctly focused on the potential harm that the change of use might cause.
The inspector had also been entitled to take the view that the bank’s proposal would conflict with a local planning policy that discouraged over-concentration of non-retail uses in more than three adjoining premises within parts of the borough where shops predominated.