I had hoped by now to have an update on the planning appeal for Backstreet, with at least the possibility of a date by which the decision would be made. In retrospect, I should have known better.
For those coming late to this, the planning appeal that was held in late January was the latest stage in a very long saga. The formal planning application was submitted in May 2016 - though the design on which it was based was first shown at a public meeting in the autumn of 2013.
The revised planning application was rejected by the planning committee in late summer 2017, with the final decision notice issued in December of that year. The appeal notice was issued six months later, with the date set for January 2019.
That hearing took place; sadly due to a stomach bug I was unable to attend in person and put the case for the preservation of Backstreet. However, I did make a written submission in August of 2018, and another just before the appeal.
The appeal was originally scheduled for five days, and so I rang the planning officer at the council for an update this morning. And the news is - largely - that there’s no news. It wasn’t possible to hear all the evidence in the time available, and so the appeal has been adjourned until the middle of May.
There is a little extra information, however. Firstly, the council is supporting its argument primarily on only a couple of the grounds of refusal. That is the design and heritage aspect, and the loss of the “community facility” ie Backstreet. They are not fighting on the air quality and servicing provisions.
I’m also informed that, as the council has been stressing the need to protect Backstreet, the developer is making a slightly improved offer with regard to the preservation of the club, and there may be additional conditions that will require the space to be used for LGBT purposes for a number of years, regardless of whether or not The Backstreet is there.
That means that it would be much harder for the developer to make an offer and then, when The Backstreet has moved back in, subsequently take actions such as rent rises specifically designed to force closure, because they wouldn’t be able to simply put the space on the open market.
The exact details of the offer remain to be seen, so we don’t know to what extent it will alleviate concerns. And of course there are other potential problems like issues of noise that might may need to be addressed before the council - and The Backstreet - can be happy that the proposal is viable.
While there’s clearly some merit in knowing what will happen - and the planning officer thinks the appeal could go either way - there is some upside to the delay. Since The Backstreet has been promised at least a year’s notice of work commencing, each additional delay means the club stays open for longer, regardless of the final decision.
With the hearing resuming in May, it’s likely no decision will be made until June. And so, until June 2020, let’s keep on rocking.