Apr 8 2010 By James Cracknell, Harrow Observer
BATTLE has begun between the world's largest coffee-house company and the planning officers who have twice refused Starbucks permission for their High Street store.
The scene was set at Harrow Borough Council's civic centre for a two-day public inquiry that will determine whether the coffee shop can continue trading in Pinner, or will be forced to vacate the premises it has occupied without authorisation since November 2007.
The debate revolves around whether the store does or does not 'harm the vitality or viability of the centre' - in other words, does it improve the street scene, and does it improve the amenity of the high street?
In his opening remarks, Starbucks' lawyer Stephen Morgan said: "There are undoubted benefits that arise from a coffee shop use of this nature. Numerous appeal decisions have confirmed this and that the use is both complementary and attractive in its own right and thus beneficial to centres, including primary frontages.
"The patronage and customer surveys demonstrate that the Starbucks in Pinner is no different.... Indeed the evidence will demonstrate that Starbucks adds to the attractiveness of this part of the centre and the centre as a whole. That is key."
Starbucks is appealing the refusal of an application for 'change of use' from class A1 (retail) to mixed class A1/A3 (retail/cafe) in December 2009.
It was originally denied the legal use of the store in February 2008.
The address, 19-23 High Street, lies within the Pinner Conservation Area and was previously a book shop.
Starbucks says the store is popular and has traded well. Two Facebook groups campaigning for the shop to remain have attracted 61 members.
But defending the council's stance that the store harms Pinner centre, lawyer Guy Williams told the inquiry: "The council does not dispute that the unauthorised use trades well. However, the appellants [Starbucks] must demonstrate the harm caused by undermining the district centre's retail offer by a substantial proportion is more than outweighed by the contribution of the unauthorised use.
"It will be submitted that they have failed to do so. Complementary non-retail uses are welcomed in the centre subject to the proper balance being struck. The fact that a coffee shop will be popular does not justify a rewriting of that balance."
Two members of The Pinner Association, who oppose the store, are attending the inquiry. Deciding whether Starbucks stays will be Jane Miles, on instruction from the government. It is expected she will issue a verdict within two months.