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The cafe saga at Pittville Pump Room

On 20 October 2022  Cheltenham Borough Council refused permission for a change of land use which would have enabled the temporary cafe structure at the Pump Room to remain in place for up to two more years. Here is some of the background to that decision.

June 2020: the Cheltenham Trust opened an outdoor cafe at the Pump Room in response to the Covid pandemic. This was located under the portico and on the area in front of the Pump Room, and was deservedly popular. We welcomed this initiative as part of the process of reviving the Pump Room; indeed we had already made our own proposal for a cafe at the Pump Room in May 2020.

October 2021: during the pandemic, planning regulations were relaxed to help hospitality businesses achieve social distancing and continuity of business during Covid restrictions. Using these provisions, the Cheltenham Trust erected a temporary cafe structure adjacent to the west end of the Pump Room – known as the Heritage Deco Café Orangery – which opened on 1 October 2021.

December 2021: the provisions for temporary structures were originally due to expire on 31 December 2021, and shortly before that date the Cheltenham Trust submitted a planning application to convert the temporary café into a permanent one.  Historic England expressed strong concerns about this application; but in the event the arrangements for temporary structures were extended until September 2022, and the planning application was withdrawn. At this point Cheltenham Civic Society offered to help the Cheltenham Trust develop proposals for a permanent cafe at the Pump Room, but this has not been taken up.

September 2022: as the deadline approached for the expiry of the pandemic planning provisions, the Cheltenham Trust submitted an application for a change of use to the land beside the Pump Room which would enable the temporary café to continue for up to another two years. A number of objections were received, including another strongly worded statement from Historic England, and the Council’s own Planning Officer recommended refusal:

“The proposed temporary retention of the cafe structure would be harmful to the significance of the Grade I Pump Room and has not been justified under para 200 of the NPPF (National Planning Policy Framework), and we object to the application. While we would not be supportive of a permanent solution on this site, we would encourage the applicant to consider alternative options that utilise the listed building or perhaps an alternative site within the park.”

October 2022: the application for the change of land use (which would have enabled the temporary cafe structure to remain in place for up to two more years) was considered by Cheltenham Borough Council’s Planning Committee on 20 October 2022. Permission was refused, although the vote was close. The full text of the decision was as follows:

“By virtue of the scale, form, design and siting of the development in relation to Pittville Pump Room, a Grade I listed building, the development is considered to represent harm to this designated heritage asset … The public benefits associated with the development are not considered to outweigh the harm that has been identified and therefore the development is considered to be unacceptable in heritage terms. The proposal therefore fails to comply with Cheltenham Plan policy D1, Adopted JCS policies SD4 and SD8, and section 16 of the NPPF.”