A planning row over Starbucks outlets in Cork has been referred to An Bórd Pleanála for determination.
The details emerged at this week’s city council meeting during a wide-ranging debate on planning policy.
City planners confirmed that following complaints, they have opened enforcement files in relation to the operation of three Starbucks outlets in the city centre.
The row is about the interpretation of planning law as it relates to the change of use of a premises.
An Irish franchise operator has opened three Starbucks outlets in the city in recent months — on Prince’s St in March, in the historic Queen Anne House on Emmet Place during the summer, and on St Patrick’s Street.
The Queen Anne House outlet, a protected structure which dates to 1730, is an important part of the city’s heritage. It had been sensitively redeveloped as part of the Opera Lane development.
Each of the premises are former retail outlets and each opened as a Starbucks outlet without planning permission.
It is understood the franchise operator’s interpretation of planning law is the outlets did not require planning permission because, in its view, there had been no change in use of the premises.
The operator has argued the vast majority of their products are sold as take-away items, and its products are not consumed on site.
It has argued Starbucks is a retail operation like the previous occupiers of each o f the outlets, and, as such, they do not require planning permission for a change of use of the premises.
However, planners have interpreted the law differently, arguing that the franchise operator must apply for planning permission.
Planners have also argued that, as is the case in all planning applications, they must have regard for the objectives of the city development plan, and in the case of St Patrick’s Street in particular, specific objectives are laid down in the plan about what type of development is allowed on the city’s main street.
A spokesman for the planning department said the council decided to refer the matter to An Bórd Pleanála for a determination. It was also decided that putting the matter before the courts for a ruling at this stage was deemed inappropriate.
In the meantime, the outlets continue to trade as normal. Starbucks also has two outlets in Mahon.
The arrival of so many Starbucks in Cork this year sparked a storm of controversy on social media, with claims its presence could threaten the city’s range of smaller independently-run coffee shops.
However, others argue the arrival of global brands such as Starbucks was a vote of confidence in the city centre, and would create jobs.
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