A CAPITAL cafe so popular it has been turning customers away has been refused permission to add extra tables – after officials ruled it would create too many food outlets in the high street.
Dixie Sudron, 40, and Annie Scott, 30, who run Annie and Belle Cafe in Portobello High Street, applied for planning permission in August last year to trade as an upmarket cake shop and tea house. The licence would have allowed them to add two tables to the four they currently have and to reheat food.
But despite having to turn customers away because of lack of space, the cafe owners – who have planning permission to trade as a craft shop – were refused a licence as it would have breached regulations designed to maintain the balance between food and retail outlets on the High Street.
Ms Sudron and Ms Scott have now launched a petition – which has been signed by at least 300 people – and say their business could now be under threat by the ruling.
Ms Sudron said: “We asked the council for an extra couple of tables so that we can seat 20 to 25 people and it just seems silly that we are having to jump through hoops for this.
“Since we took the lease in November about five shops have closed down. On each side of us at the moment there are empty units – what do the council want on the High Street?
“I completely understand that there needs to be a balance, but the fact that you are on one particular strip of road and that results in you not getting the licence you need just seems a bit ludicrous.”
She added: “I’m worried the number of people who say ‘we are not going to go there because we never get a table’ will really start to hurt trade.”
Ms Scott said: “We need to be a little bit more open-minded. Things are changing and the High Street is not what it used to be. With limited parking, there are only certain sorts of business that are going to do well on a street like this, but there will always be demand for a place that offers a good cup of tea and a cake.”
Community councillor Diana Cairns, who lodged a personal objection to the application, said: “The community council commented on a proposal for another cafe across the road from Annie and Belle in exactly the same way, because it was against council policy designed to protect the High Street.
“The criteria determining what’s allowed on the primary retail frontage are very clear.”
One neighbouring trader, who asked not to be named, said: “There are probably too many cafes on the street at the moment. There was a cafe and deli on the street called Kitcheners which had been there for 20 to 30 years but that closed down recently.
“While business owners should be free to run their business as they want, it’s important a balance is maintained.”
But Diana Renshaw, 56, leaseholder at the Blue Bean Coffee House in Portobello High Street, said: “I would say the council has been terribly unfair.
“If they are having to turn people away, they should be allowed the licence for the extra space – customers know what they want and they’ll go for what they want.”
A city council spokesperson said: “We appreciate the difficulties that businesses are facing and are supportive of development, but we have to balance these needs with the long-term vision for the High Street to remain a vibrant shopping area with a mix of uses.”