Cafe owner battles council over decking in Gower conservation area, facing costly planning fees and potential removal.
(Note, I had the permission of the people sitting at the decking to take the photo included with this article. RY)
THE dismayed owner of a cafe in Gower has been told to take down a small area of decking after a four-year planning wrangle.
Simon Morris, who owns The Lookout, Rhossili, with his cousin Steve Lancey said the dispute had cost them thousands of pounds in planning costs and legal fees.
“It’s so frustrating,” said Mr Morris. “Everybody who sits there says it’s amazing – lovely views, lovely coffee. We are trying to showcase the area.”
Swansea Council said the three-step decking was a breach of planning because it was “an unneighbourly form of development” which resulted in a loss of privacy for the property next door. It also said timber boarding and a gate at the rear of the decked area had an unacceptable impact on the Rhossili Conservation Area and the wider Gower Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty.
The council’s enforcement notice requires the decking and boarding to be taken down within two months, but Mr Morris has appealed it, meaning it will now be decided by a Welsh Government-appointed planning inspector.
He said he and his cousin were Gower born-and-bred and that The Lookout had become a community focal point as well as supporting around 15 full and part-time jobs since the duo took it on four years ago.
Mr Morris said the decking was installed in July 2019, along with a 12ft high post in one corner with the intention of attaching a sail canopy to protect seated customers from rain.
He said there was an objection and, not realising that planning permission had been required, he submitted a planning application to the council two months later to retain the decking. He contended that it didn’t have an adverse effect on the neighbouring property, and that he intended to remove the post in due course.
The council ended up refusing the application on residential amenity grounds, saying it was unneighbourly development resulting in a loss of privacy.
Mr Morris then applied to the council to lower the decking to just one step – a plan which prompted 105 letters of support. But the council again turned it down, saying the lower decking would be an improvement but would still only be 1.55m lower than the adjacent boundary wall.
Next came an application by Mr Morris to retain the decking as it was, while adding obscured glass panelling to act as a boundary screen. But council officers said the screen and the wall it attached needed to be 1.8m higher than the decking and that the proposed one was only 1.65m. They added that the glazed panelling failed to preserve or enhance the local conservation area, and also maintained the unneighbourly ground for refusal.
Mr Morris appealed this refusal but was knocked back by a planning inspector, who said the proposals would not as a whole give rise to a harmful level of overlooking but would fail to enhance or preserve the conservation area.
Mr Morris went back to the drawing board, and submitted a further application to the council to reduce the decking height by 45cm and install a slatted timber privacy screen, with additional planting. But the council said at 1.55m it remained too low, while also questioning how plants could bedded into the top of the existing stone wall.
Mr Morris said the best-case scenario for him now would be to keep the decking, and he hoped a solution could be found.
New developments in conservation areas in Swansea must pay particular attention to where they are proposed, their scale and the materials used. The council has also said the screening between the decking at The Lookout and the top of the boundary wall needed to be 1.8m.
But Mr Morris said he felt this planning battle “wouldn’t happen anywhere else but Rhossili”.
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