A popular Sunderland café will be forced to stop its hot food takeaway service following a decision from a government-appointed planning inspector.

Cole Kitchen, based in Roker, previously applied to Sunderland City Council to be classed as a hot food takeaway operating between the hours of 9am and 3pm, seven days a week.

According to a design and access statement submitted to the council, the business had been operating as a hot food takeaway under the Coronavirus Regulations for several years.

When the national legislation was withdrawn, Cole Kitchen lodged a retrospective planning application to “formalise the business as a hot food takeaway” permanently.

Sunderland City Council’s planning department refused the planning application in December, 2022, after the bid clashed with policies in the local authority’s development plan.

This included Cole Kitchen being located in a ward (St Peter’s) where the obesity level of year six pupils was higher than 21 per cent, 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”.

The decision was met with criticism by some, with one local councillor slamming the “nanny state” ruling, as well as thousands of people signing a petition in support of the business.

Following the refusal, Sunderland City Council issued an enforcement notice to Cole Kitchen to stop the use of the hot food takeaway, which was appealed by the business.

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.

After considering cases from both parties, the planning inspector published a decision at the beginning of February, 2024, dismissing the appeal, refusing the hot food takeaway and upholding the council’s enforcement notice.

This requires Cole Kitchen to “cease the use as a hot food takeaway” by the end of February, 2024, which would see the business revert to its previous café use.

Appellants previously maintained that the opening hours of the business (9am-3pm), meant it would not be used by children who would remain in school for meals on school days.

However, the planning inspector’s report said this would not be the case on weekends or during school holidays and “there would be nothing to stop them buying takeaway food, or having it bought for them, during those times”.

It was also noted that the council’s hot food takeaway policy was linked to all city residents and that “allowing the unauthorised hot food takeaway on the site would therefore not promote healthier communities”.

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.

However, the 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”.

It was noted that the café previously offered a takeaway option for cold sandwiches, coffee and cake and that the hot food menu provided a “healthier option” compared to traditional takeaways offering pizza or fish and chips.

Hot food offered at Cole Kitchen, according to the appeal decision report, included “breakfast sandwiches, and also options such as beetroot burgers, potato and onion rosti sandwiches and halloumi cheese sandwiches”.

Although these points were noted, the planning inspector’s report said that “once permission was granted for a hot food takeaway use at the premises, there would be little to stop the food offer changing to more traditional takeaway fare”.

The appellant also suggested a condition restricting opening hours to help prevent this, but the planning inspector said that if a hot food takeaway use became lawful, the council would “have little basis on which to resist an application to vary the hours of operation”.

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.

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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Cole Kitchen bosses recently opened a new café at Southend in Cleadon and in February, 2024, advertised for jobs at the new site and existing Roker site on social media.

Following the recent appeal decision, Cole Kitchen was approached for comment.

A Sunderland City Council spokesperson added: “The council has policies on residential amenity and health, and these have been upheld in the planning inspector’s decision.”