Plans to turn a vacant shop in Axminster town centre into a micropub have been given the go-ahead – provided safety concerns can be overcome.
Proposals for the former women’s clothing store in Chard Street, which has been empty since September 2019, were approved by East Devon District Council’s (EDDC) Development Management Committee.
Mathew Dalton-Aram, agent for the applicant, told the meeting on Wednesday: “The UK high street was facing difficulties before coronavirus for retail businesses to remain viable.
“Micropubs, though, are bucking the trend and this pub is intended to be a space for conversation and socialising over a drink where the community can meet on a localised and personalised basis. This will give an active use for the vacant building.”
Questions were, however, raised about how social distancing during the Covid-19 pandemic would be applied in the premises, as well as the fact it only has one entrance and exit.
But Chris Rose, EDDC’s development manager, said these could be addressed by means of appropriate planning conditions.
Recommending approval, he added: “The proposal would bring a vacant commercial unit within the town centre back into active use and, against the background of wider changes in the retail market and its declining role in the town centre, it is considered this is likely to retain activity in the town centre will have benefit in supporting its overall function.”
Councillor Andrew Moulding said the micropub would bring a vacant shop into good use and will be very popular.
Cllr Ian Hall added: “Axminster has far too many units left empty.
“The high streets are struggling and we are trying to get people into the town, and just around the corner is something similar – Costa Coffee – but they serve coffee and not alcohol.”
Cllr Mike Howe added: “If they cannot overcome the risk assessment issues, they cannot open, so it is their problem to overcome and not ours as none of it relates to planning.
“This is brilliant and let us try and reinvigorate it. I hope they can overcome the safety issues that I am sure the fire brigade will have.”
Councillors voted by 10 to three abstentions to approve the change of use application.