It’s nearly two years ago that we wrote about the disappointing decision to turn down the application to turn long-empty hairdresser’s ‘Rockit’ in to a sushi bar. And, guess what? The site on Royal Parade is still empty. Not only is this is a simple waste of space, but it’s also a crying shame that the sushi bar application in particular was turned down as, judging by our Twitter exchanges, there’s huge demand for this sort of place in Blackheath.
So, two years on and – despite promises from local councillors to look in to the matter – no change. Actually, scratch that, things have got worse. Putting aside for a moment your unsatisfied need for raw fish, if you had a say in what should fill some of the empty spaces in Blackheath, what would you go for? Keeping in mind the hairdressers has been empty for more than two years would you go for a….hairdressers? No? Really? Something else? Don’t be silly. Hairdresser it is.
Now, the Revolt bows to no one when in its free market credentials. Indeed, we started this ‘blog as a response to those locals who seemed to think they could hold back the tide of development in the village and instead ‘will’ their own outcome on the place (most notably by opposing any sort of pop festival for ages). So we’re not stupid enough to think that just because we might want something to appear in the village – or not disappear from the village (the loss of the fishmongers was a blow) – that it will happen. But in this case, there was an application! For a sushi bar that would have been popular! And despite the fact that the fishmongers was replaced by a hairdresser and that ‘Rockit’ is still empty, the long-vacant Black Vanilla site in the middle of the village is to become a barber shop.
To be clear – we wish the new venture every success. Our argument is with the Council. What is it thinking? The official reason for turning down the sushi bar is as follows (courtesy of Revolt favourite ‘Dr Dick’ @drdickdickson):
Translated this means they were worried about too many ‘non-retail’ units in the village. Underlying this has to be a presumption that one restaurant is the same as another. That a sushi bar would take custom way from an Argentine steak house. Possible, but more likely is that both would benefit from the village’s reputation for good food growing (which it has massive scope to do).
But, fear not! Rumours abound that Blackheath is about to get a whole new dining experience. Oh year, milkshakes! (Apparently at the Costcutter, but not yet confirmed. Anyone know?).
What to do then?
For a start, we’d encourage those interested in this to raise it with local councillor, and all-round decent bloke Kevin Bonavia. Cllr Bonavia has tweeted in the past about this and said he would look in to things.
Second, given the problem seems to be the planning rules concerning a concentration of non-retail outlets in the village (apparently this specifically means no more than three restaurants in a row), the question arises as to whether these rules makes sense and if they can be changed? Are they national or a local policy? If the latter then surely there is scope for changing them? One option might be to retain the general principle but to apply it alongside a general preference against long-term empty properties. Another would be to have a more nuanced approach to the type of restaurant when considering an application.
Anyone know how to start an on-line petition? Perhaps one could be organised to bring these matters to the attention of the Council?
Finally, should there be another application for a sushi-bar, or something similarly interesting (cheese-monger, anyone?), we should all write in as part of the planning process to support that application.