Shaftesbury Councillors In Deadlock Over Angola 76 Plans

Planners in Dorchester will decide the immediate future of Angola 76. Shaftesbury Town Council is unable to agree on what guidance to offer Dorset Council.

During Tuesday’s planning meeting Shaftesbury councillors couldn’t decide whether to support or object to the bar’s planning application. Angola 76’s plans have split councillors’ opinion. Half of the committee of four councillors was concerned about noise or how proposed alterations could affect the appearance of Mustons Lane. The other two councillors failed to convince their colleagues to back Angola 76’s application when they argued that the venue enjoyed significant public support.

Although planning applications and premises licencing are separate issues, these two areas have become intertwined in the Angola 76 debate because of noise complaints. On 19th December, Angola’s licence was amended. “Our licence has been reviewed which was a pretty tough time for us. We’ve got through that. This is just another obstacle we have to overcome,” said manager Sally Francis.

Sally Francis

Cllr Andy Hollingshead was opposed to the planning application during Tuesday’s debate but paid tribute to the bar’s operators. “I think the job that Andy and Sally are doing is good in challenging circumstances. They are running the place well. At the licensing review, I was happy to come up with a proposal that I thought would take things forward. The feedback I had from Andy was that it had done that,” he said.

The hearing imposed conditions, including reducing music volume for the last hour of opening, the use of decibel meters, employing two door staff at weekends and special ways and policies for dispersing customers when they leave.

Cllr Piers Brown said the restrictions were, ‘some of the tightest he had seen on a property of this type’. He understood nearby residents’ complaints but Piers alleged that several objections came from one resident, ‘in different guises’.

Cllr Peter Yeo told Tuesday’s meeting that no police evidence against Angola 76 had been offered in the hearing and he believes noise comes from other premises, but that the ‘finger is pointed’ at the bar.

Licensing and planning issues merged in Tuesday’s planning meeting because Angola 76 want to address the noise concerns raised in the licencing discussions by stretching a canopy roof across much of the courtyard. They also want to replace the courtyard gates with a glazed front door and entrance porch.

Cllr Alex Chase believed the plans offered ‘a good way of mitigating the noise issues’. Peter Yeo agreed. “Putting a new entrance in the gap between the two buildings and (adding) the roof can only improve the noise issues that, particularly one neighbour, had issues with. I think it is a good application,” said Cllr Yeo.

Cllr Hollingshead disagreed and was concerned that adding the roof on the courtyard would force people outside to smoke. Angola 76’s plans identify an area at the rear of the property for smokers. “That will have a significant impact on people who reside around there,” Andy said.

Sally Francis doesn’t believe that smokers would cause a disturbance. “We already have a very large designated smoking area at the back which is fully in use every weekend. Whereas you won’t be able to smoke under the covered areas, you have a huge proportion of the back area which doesn’t spill out onto any residences. It’s part of the Angola garden. People won’t be on the front of the street. Nobody does that now. Everybody goes to the back. After 11pm, we don’t allow anybody in the courtyard area. They go to the back,” she explained.

Another part of this planning application aims to make legal the building work that was undertaken without consent. If you stand outside the premises, there are two stone buildings on either side of the courtyard and gate. One is on the left and the other to the right, slightly uphill. The lower building has been remodelled to house a bar, restaurant and mezzanine floor. That has been created without planning permission and that’s why owner, John Morgan, has applied for permission retrospectively.

“It’s all work that was carried out last year to do with the bar, enabling us to have a bigger space so we can use the venue and serve more people. It’s to put more kitchen space in,” Sally said.

Angola 76

As the work wasn’t approved, Cllr Hollingshead explained that the owners have been served a planning contravention notice. That’s the first stage of enforcement action when the council believes that planning rules have been breached.

“We have been operating without consent but it’s all been under investigation and they have been looking at the planning applications,” said Sally. “We’ve always had a planning application in place. Unfortunately, the last one was put in during February and we didn’t find out that it was refused until November. We still have to operate as a business. We still have to continue. The decision took a long time and it wasn’t any fault of ours. It was left in the hands of other people deciding.”

Cllr Hollingshead argued that, as the planning, environmental health and conservation officers had refused permission on several occasions, the Town Council should not support this plan now. “It’s been put forward to Dorset Council on three previous occasions. Each time, it’s been refused. It’s the same application that is coming forward again. Nothing has changed. I’m unclear why there was any view of wanting to support it because it is an application that has already been turned down,” said Andy.

Cllr John Lewer raised trust issues. “It doesn’t give me the confidence that, whatever is decided, will be adhered to,” he said. Andy was also concerned that the proposed roof over the courtyard would create the impression of one large dominating structure. “You’d essentially have a very large building in a narrow lane which is part-residential and abuts onto an extensive residential area,” he said.

Cllr Hollingshead felt that the development would present, ‘quite a challenging visual display’ and would be  ‘atrocious’ and an eyesore’, which would spoil the character of the area. “Mustons Lane and Bell Street are sensitive areas. Building a large roofed venue right in the middle of such a narrow lane won’t solve anything,” said Cllr Hollingshead, who was also concerned about the expansion of the business with more covered space and the ‘numbers it would attract’.

On the other hand, the bar is very popular, and many locals consider the venue an important part of the town’s arts offer. As I chatted with Sally, a weighty bound document containing Angola’s messages of support and petition signatures for December’s Licencing hearing lay on the bar. “We have got a petition with 1,200 signatures on it and hundreds of comments. It’s so evident that people want this venue in the town,” said Sally.

Cllr Piers Brown is not on the Planning Committee but attended the meeting and urged his colleagues to support Angola 76’s application, ‘because it is an incredibly well-loved and a well-used local business that invests in our leisure economy in town’.

Cllr John Lewer reflected on the petition, which he acknowledged as ‘big’, but he felt nearby neighbours’ complaints should be considered. “A lot of the support for the petition was from people who live well outside earshot of Angola. There are people who think very highly of it. It is important. It helps the town’s economy. But equally, there are people who live nearby that find it a nuisance. I’m sympathetic to people who are affected by noise. It’s all very well people who are halfway across the south of England saying, ‘it’s a superb venue’. It’s people across the road that we have to consider.”

Perhaps the most unexpected comment came from Cllr Alex Chase. He supported Angola’s plans but announced that he had a problem with the venue’s name, “A glorification of civil war,” he said. “The name of the music promotion company is a glorification of corruption in Africa and the uniforms of the bar people are khaki, thus ensuring there is that link.” Alex accepted those were not planning matters but added, “They’re just matters of human decency.”

Afterwards, he told Alfred, “If it was up to me, I would gladly say, ‘you have to change the name’ but that’s not one of the things I get to choose.”

When the councillors were asked to vote, Cllrs Chase and Yeo wanted to support Angola 76’s application. Cllrs Hollingshead and Lewer did not. As meeting chairman, Cllr Lewer could have used his casting vote to break the deadlock. That would have meant that Dorset Council would have been told that Shaftesbury Council objected to Angola’s 76’s plans. Cllr Lewer didn’t do that.

“It was split and there was no reason to believe there was a majority for anything else. I have always understood that deciding to break a deadlock in favour of doing something is not a good way to proceed,” he said.

So, it remained ‘a draw’ and Dorset Council will now decide, without having a steer on what Shaftesbury wants or doesn’t wanted. “No comment was better than objecting, in my opinion,” explained Peter Yeo.

Sally Francis is disappointed that she didn’t realise that Angola 76’s plans were on the Town Council agenda. “Unfortunately, I wasn’t aware that this was going to be discussed at this meeting. If I had been, then I would have been there for sure,” Sally explained. “I think there may have possibly been confusion about the application. That’s why that result arose. If I had been able to explain in detail and possibly talk to people about their concerns, I think it would have been a different vote.”

Until the closing dates for commenting on this application pass in mid-February, Dorset Council can’t say whether it will be a committee of councillors or council officers who will decide whether the plans are approved or rejected. Sally says decision-makers should read her petition. “Shaftesbury people have spoken. They love the venue and want us here,” said Sally.

But Cllr Hollingshead would prefer Angola 76 to focus on making its recent refurbishment legal, rather than expanding the business. “I would like to see the owners getting on with trying to sort out the plans for what they have already done, without looking at taking it further and trying to build a roof over the courtyard,” said Andy.