Controversial plans to open a shisha cafe in West Bromwich, which were thrown out by Sandwell planners, have been approved by Government inspectors.
The application for the cafe, at the former Southern Fried Chicken outlet on High Street, was previously turned down by the borough’s planning committee on health and crime grounds, but now the national Planning Inspectorate has overruled the decision.
Health bosses at the PCT had raised a “substantial” objection against the plans as shisha, which is smoked through large ornate pipes, contains tobacco, and because Sandwell College students could be attracted to the bar.
Sandwell councillors listened to their concerns and on October 17, 2012, refused permission for the cafe on the grounds that shisha smoking “is proven to have a detrimental impact on public health”. They also said the development could “exacerbate crime and anti-social behaviour and contribute to fear of crime in West Bromwich”.
Following an appeal, this decision has now been overturned by Planning Inspector Elizabeth Hill, meaning applicant Mohammed Fhazad from Tividale can open the cafe within three years.
Ms Hill said she visited High Street around Sandwell College’s closing time and noted the cafes and takeaways were being well used by students. In her report she stated that, although the health of young people was a material planning consideration, the sale of tobacco was subject to age restrictions.
The police also objected to the original proposal, saying there was a problem of increasing crime and disorder in that area of the town centre, and that shops such as this could be associated with anti-social behaviour.
But again the inspector rebuffed this opposition, stating the police’s comments were general and that there was no objective evidence put forward to substantiate claims of links between shisha cafes and crime in the area.
She added in her report that the proposal would likely help to improve the town centre environment by bringing a currently vacant property back into use. The proposal also had “significant” support from local traders and businesses in the form of a petition with 55 signatures.
The cafe, which will have an internal coffee shop and external smoking shelter, will open from 10am to 11pm Monday to Thursday and on Sundays and Bank Holidays, and from 10am to midnight on Fridays and Saturdays.