A DECISION on whether to allow Starbucks to stay in Pinner is now imminent, following a two-day public inquiry.
The world's largest coffee-house company was appealing against Harrow Borough Council's refusal to grant 'change of use' planning permission for the High Street store they have occupied without consent since November 2007.
The inspector in the case is Jane Miles, who visited the Starbucks outlet in Pinner last week to see its impact for herself. The key issue she must address is whether the popular store 'harms the vitality or viability of the centre', and her verdict will be made before 13 May.
Representing the council's planning department, who rejected Starbucks' argument in February 2008 and December 2009, was Guy Williams. He told the inquiry: "The starting point is that there is a substantial policy breach. In the absence of other material considerations permission must be refused."
Mr Williams said there was no dispute that Starbucks was a mixed A1 (retail) and A3 (retail/cafe) outlet, and therefore had broken the council's policy on how many such stores should be allowed in Pinner centre.
He continued: "The unit appears to trade well and the council does not dispute this. However, the concern is the erosion of the retail function of the primary shopping frontage and the harm caused to policy objectives related to the provision of a strong and attractive retail offer, enhancing consumer choice, promoting competition and meeting the shopping needs of the catchment.
"The attractiveness of Starbucks does little to offset the harm caused to these objectives."
Countering the council's argument was Stephen Morgan. He said other Starbucks outlets in the UK had raised similar concerns but had still been approved, and that Pinner should be no different.
"The High Street [in Pinner] has changed after the Second World War from being a traditional shopping street to one primarily composed of cafes, bars, restaurants and specialist shops. That change has not been brought about by Starbucks," Mr Morgan said.
"What matters, rather than just this numbers game that the council's approach involves, is that there is undoubtedly a good mix of retail and non-retail appropriate to a district centre. The council's Retail Study Review notes the number of comparison retail units is slightly below the national average but that this reflects its district centre role."
Mr Morgan's witness, in support of his case, was James Tarzey from Pegasus Planning Group. On Mr William's side was Philippa Jarvis, a planning consultant with the council.
Geoffrey Wheal, from The Pinner Association, also spoke at the inquiry. He said: "We still see the High Street as being a shopping street and an integral part of Pinner. If it is, it should have predominantly shops selling goods and we support the council policy of a limit on shops selling services.
"Otherwise the High Street loses its character, and we think it is already on the verge of doing so."