A PIZZA restaurant has finally been granted planning permission after a months-long dispute.

Town centre pizzeria Franco Manca, part of a chain, opened early last summer in the former menswear section of the Debenhams store in Bournemouth Square, without official authorisation.

Its representatives argued that it did not need to seek change of use permission for the unit as it was covered by the existing mixed use category of the department store, which also covers its café.

Bournemouth council planning officers felt differently, but have now offered approval regardless.

A report by planning officer Steve Davies states that the borough would overlook the loss of "prime" retail space in the "special circumstances" of this case as the restaurant was considered to benefit Debenhams.

"The main issue is whether the proposed use will detract from the shopping area and whether the use will affect the viability of or weaken the prime shopping area and Debenhams itself," the report states.

"The applicant has indicated that 'there is too much space within the store to reflect the demand from Debenhams customers. Therefore, to continue operating the store in the same manner represents a significant inefficiency. Introduction of a further concession to the store, therefore, makes clear economic sense'.

"I have discussed the matter with the council's head of economic development and sustainability and he has a similar view and would not object provided the proposal supports Debenhams."

The council has applied a condition that a direct link to the store be maintained, and that the use permission will cease should Debenhams cease trading from the site.

Franco Manca was last year refused permission to create outdoor terraces both directly in front of the restaurant and on the other side of the Exeter Road exit from the Square, as council planners feared they would cause "a significant impediment" to pedestrians and cyclists.