THERE are too many coffee shops in Christchurch, councillors have ruled, as they refused plans for one more in the town centre.

At a meeting of Christchurch Borough Council's planning committee, members ruled against plans for a Coffee#1 in the empty Shoe Zone unit in the High Street.

The plans had already proved controversial, attracting a number of objections including a 100-signature petition.

And despite planning officers from the council recommending approval of the scheme, members felt the balance of food outlets to retail outlets would tip the balance too far.

The meeting heard from both Elliot Jones, the planning agent for Coffee#1, and Mike Ismail, the owner of Baggies cafe, who started the petition.

The council had recommended approval despite the self-imposed threshold of 30 per cent food outlets in the shopping area already nearing 40 per cent.

Officer Kim Bowditch told the meeting: "The issue here is that recent changes to planning policy encourage more flexibility. We have a balance to strike, this unit has been vacant for months." She said the longer the Grade 2 listed building stayed empty, the greater the chances of it falling into disrepair.

"On the basis that this application would put it back to use and enhance footfall and take off a vacant unit, we are recommending approval."

However, Mr Ismail said the guideline of 30 per cent food outlets had already been breached.

Elliot Jones, agent for Coffee#1 added: "We know the local plan position...that said the proposal would lead only to a slight increase.

"To rigidly apply the threshold limit would not accurately reflect market conditions. We have a long standing track record of restoring listed buildings."

Town centre ward councillor, Peter Hall, recommending refusal of the scheme said: "A lot of the businesses are struggling. Why make an exception here?"

He was backed by fellow ward councillor Wendy Grace, and Cllr Fred Neale.

But Cllr Colin Jamieson said: "I do not believe we could defend this on appeal. It is not what we want to see but it is what the law allows us to decide. We have to work within the parameters of the law. We need to work within the emerging changes to the national policy and this will add extra weight to the applicant's proposal."

Chairman David Jones said: "There is a percentage and is it s a sizeable increase and that is my concern.

"I agree a dead shop does not do much for the town centre. But there are things that can be done. I have to say this has to be a very balanced decision. I am aware and take into account the applicant's respect for the heritage assets and that is to be commended.

"I am not convinced another coffee shop will add to the vitality of the town centre."