A café in Barton under Needwood is to stay open seven days a week until 11.30pm and serve alcohol for the first time since it launched - despite fears from neighbours of late night noise nuisance.
The Skinny Kitten café, in Main Street, already operates from 9am to 5pm and had originally applied to open until 12.30am along with a licence to serve alcohol. This was agreed with Staffordshire Police subject to conditions.
But residents objected to the proposals submitted to East Staffordshire Borough Council’s licensing department, claiming there would be noise nuisance caused by customers leaving the premises late at night while drunk, while the car park was a shared facility.
However, café owner Stephanie Holmshaw said customers very often used the Co-op car park opposite the café and she intended to allow customers to drink wine or Prosecco with their evening meal or afternoon tea rather than allow a stand-up bar selling pints.
Five neighbours attended the licencing committee meeting on Wednesday, November 1, to lodge their objections. The Skinny Kitten has now been allowed to open until 11.30pm and to serve alcohol with background music until 11pm, instead of the 12.30am time applied for.
One objector, Christian Stephenson, cited concerns over noise nuisance and public safety. He told the committee: "The site is highly unsuitable because of the close proximity to residents’ homes. The building is very old, with single glazed windows and has poor insulation and no soundproofing so there is a high likelihood of that nuisance.
"There wouldn't be a problem as use as a cafe operating from 9am to 5pm with a modest number of customers. If it changes until midnight with the sale of alcohol with recorded music I believe that to be a very inappropriate use of the building. If it is the café’s intention to serve alcohol with evening meal then why change to midnight?"
Mr Stephenson also criticised poor access. In his objection letter he said: "To the south of the café is a private courtyard with shared access between commercial tenants. To the west is a shared parking area at the rear of several other properties.
"Access to the rear of the café is by means of a long and winding gated path running west through this shared parking but only approximately one metre wide, while at the front, access is directly on Main Street which runs very closely outside."
He also claimed the private courtyard and shared parking area had been plagued by customers of nearby pubs urinating in the area.
Another resident, Ian Jackson, said he already experienced noise from Skinny Kitten customers. He said at the meeting: "The rear customer access to Skinny Kitten next to our kitchen is a shared space and this is not adequate. It is cramped and not appropriate. If customers were allowed to consume alcohol on the premises, there would be a significant increase in noise levels."
A third resident, Robert Clinton, said there were four licensed pubs in Main Street already and claimed Skinny Kitten’s licence would only add to the noise problems for residents.
He said: "With other pubs, although the licensing conditions are set, there have been disorder incidents. I can't see how adding another licensed premises can seek to reduce nuisance, especially if it is open until midnight.
"I also have concerns about the drop-offs of customers by taxis. Taxis will stop outside the premises on double yellow lines. Most properties have off-road parking and this is the most constricted area of Main Street and you would have concern about the safety of customers and other people driving down Main Street. It is quite a difficult area for pedestrians."
Mrs Holmshaw said she didn't intend her premises to be open until 12.30am and had submitted that time following advice from the licencing department; she had not been set on a particular closing time.
She said at the meeting: "We are a small family run business. We are not trying to compete with other pubs. It will be a place for a drink with your evening meal. It won't be where you come for just a few pints. You will be able to have Prosecco or wine with your afternoon tea. It will not attract rowdy groups of people who make nuisance. It won't be a stand-up bar.
"We want to hold themed evenings or tea parties. We are also not intending to open until midnight but (the application) gives us flexibility to change this going forward.
"We do have our own car park but it is shared with another business. The majority of our customers use the Co-op car park nearby."
She said only background music would be allowed with no bands performing.
On alcohol, she said: "We have done a full electrical rewiring (for CCTV) and the fire authority are satisfied. We will also have the challenge 25 policy in place."
Staffordshire Police said it was happy with the plans subject to three conditions – which include CCTV, clear signs and implementing the challenge 25 policy.
On opening longer hours, Mrs Holmshaw said: "I don't feel there is any added risk as the village is much quieter in the evenings.
"We have been open for four years and have had no complaints of people urinating. We were not aware. We are not looking to cause a nuisance."
She added that the café would have appropriate signs asking customers to respect the neighbours.
Bernard Peters, chairman of the licensing committee, said in his summing-up: "Noise pollution harm could be mitigated by sufficient mitigation by conditions. However, one harm needs to be addressed and that is the building is very close to houses and it is also not in dispute that people are extremely close to this building.
"Playing music late at night would be mitigated by amending the hours applied for, so serve alcohol and play background music until 11pm and open until 11.30pm."