The mayor of Falmouth has written a damning letter condemning the appeal decision on the town’s Marks and Spencer building as setting a dangerous precedent.

The scheme by developer Acorn Blue, to convert the former Marks and Spencer building in Market Street into 14 residential units and conversion of the ground floor to three individual retail units, with a new vehicle opening onto Market Street and car park at lower ground level providing 18 parking spaces, was refused planning permission over a year ago.

Eight months ago the developers lodged an appeal, which was decided earlier this month and the appeal ‘allowed’, meaning the development can go ahead.

Falmouth Town Council opposed the scheme, in particular over the plan to "drive a road through the centre of the M&S façade" to make way for private car parking (in roughly the location of a previous cart entrance), which the council said would bring more traffic onto the town’s pedestrian streets, and be “completely out of character” with the conservation area.

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Now mayor Steve Eva has written to the Department of Levelling up, Housing and Communities, on behalf of a large number of organisations that objected to the application, in a complaint over how the appeal decision was reached and that it contradicted a number of points in the town’s Neighbourhood Development Plan (NDP). He said: “The decision to ‘allow’ the appeal is an exceptionally bad one, poorly argued, sometimes self-contradictory, and not well supported by the evidence.”

He claimed there was “significant misreading” of the key intentions in Falmouth’s Neighbourhood Plan, including in relation to parking.

He said the inspector’s conclusion could now be applied to any non-listed building in the conservation area and allow for the demolition of building frontages to make way for access roads, to reach car parking at the rear.

“It is not only completely wrong and unreasonable, but sets a clear negative precedent,” said Mr Eva.

The mayor went on to say how the inspector failed to recognise the town centre strategy to remove most of the parking in the Church Street car park, meaning the parking in the proposal was a “significant increase on that planned” by the town going forward. He added: “In any event, it is an extremely unwarranted decision to permit an increase in vehicles when the town centre strategy and NDP policies explicitly set out to achieve a reduction. This clearly contradicts established policy.”

Mr Eva described some paragraphs of the report as being “contradictory” and making “no sense,” and claimed just one small point of the Falmouth Place Shaping Board’s masterplan was considered in the decision, in relation to ‘eddys’ along the town centre streets – which he described as a “bizarre” element to concentrate on.

He also pointed to an apparent contradiction in which the inspector said that the appeal site offered “easy and convenient access to a range of facilities and services, as well as wider public transport,” and as such would “not require or encourage future occupiers to own a private vehicle for normal day to day living.”

Referring back to previous points, Mr Eva said: “Had this connection been made, then it is clear that driving a road through the building façade and the harm caused to the conservation area, with an inappropriate roller door, would not have been necessary and should have been given more weight.”

Mr Eva also questioned the inspector saying there was “no clear reason why this appeal decision would set a precedent for the area, as each proposal must be assessed on its own merits,” with the mayor writing: “This is incredible, because of course it sets a precedent.

“The misinterpretation of the NDP Policy sets the principle that if it is ‘possible’ to provide in-curtilage parking spaces by demolishing part of a façade in continuous street frontages of a town centre in a conservation area, then it is permissible.

“The concept of whether it is desirable, or whether in character, or whether in line with the town centre aspirations and strategies, or consideration of pedestrian priority, or respect of heritage, are simply discounted.”

He added that future developers would “inevitably use this judgement ‘on principle’ as a very welcome precedent.”

Mr Eva claimed the awarding of partial costs to the developer, to be paid by Cornwall Council, was “unjustified”, saying Falmouth Town Council and Cornwall Council using the neighbourhood plan to refuse the application was “not just reasonable” but was “absolutely right.”

However, he admitted that it was “virtually impossible” to challenge the appeal decision, as this could only be done in the High Court, which was “very costly and highly risky.”

As such he considered the government inspectors to be “almost unaccountable.”

Mr Eva concluded: “This is a bad decision, sets a worse precedent, and flies in the face of Falmouth’s Neighbourhood Plan. The misinterpretation of its policies is disgraceful, and the consequential assembling of evidence to support what appears to be a pre-judged decision has little validity. This is known as confirmation bias.

“The scheme that is ‘allowed’, with its road through the M&S façade, is bad practice, and poor urban design, and damaging to our town centre and its future.”

He said that in addition to Falmouth Town Council and its planning committee, the letter was supported by Falmouth Place Shaping Board, Falmouth Civic Society, Falmouth Business Improvement District (BID), Falmouth Bay Residents Association, Falmouth Afoot, Save Our Falmouth, Falmouth and Penryn Conservation Group, Falmouth District Hotels Association, and by volunteers who provided evidence for, researched and drafted Falmouth’s Neighbourhood Plan.

“All feel their evidence to the appeal has been either ignored or misrepresented,” said Mr Eva.

The Packet has contacted the Department of Levelling Up, Housing and Communities for a response.