A NEW French restaurant has been granted approval to open beside Bournemouth Gardens.

Members of the town’s planning board agreed to disregard the recommendation by council officers that the application by Côte Brasserie for the former Austin Reed store in Westover Road be refused.

Officers stated that the plan was contrary to the borough’s policy on retaining retail space, and represented a “dilution of the primary shopping area”.

However, at a meeting yesterday, councillors argued that there were exceptional circumstances for ignoring the policy.

Addressing the board, ward councillor David Smith said: “I am asking you to go against officer’s recommendations because I think on balance a restaurant there like Côte would be a valuable asset to this town.”

Board member Cllr Gina Mackin said Westover Road was “very much a dying area”.

“We are trying to attract people to Bournemouth, we should be welcoming this,” she said.

The board heard the council’s head of economic development and sustainability Chris Shephard backed the plans, saying high street retail brands had only expressed limited interest in the Grade II listed building.

The scheme was also backed by Town Centre BID manager Steve Hughes, who wrote to the board calling for “flexibility in planning” to help Bournemouth build a “vibrant, cosmopolitan town centre”.

He said businesses in Westover Road were also in favour.

The meeting heard the building is designated a primary retail frontage, the highest level for protection from change of use bids.

Officers pointed out that the decision could set a precedent for other retail locations around the town being changed into restaurants, and would make it “awkward” for them when discussing such proposals with other applicants.

Cllr Stephen Bartlett echoed this concern.

“If we grant the restaurant use it could become a McDonalds, not that there is anything wrong with that,” he said.

“What appears to be the attraction here is the brand. I think it would be a great asset to the town.

“But we have got to be very mindful that the A3 use is for any restaurant.”

He also expressed concern that the decision was being made before a new study by the council of the viability of retail premises in the town centre has been published.