Help stop the ‘BACK STREET BISTRO’ becoming a busy High-Street Style Gastro Pub

The community near the Back Street Bistro is horrified by this huge expansion of the quiet pub & restaurant which goes to planning committee next Wednesday. Report from a resident:

The City Pub Company (East) plc, with £19 million backing, boasts a ‘growing portfolio’ of 14 pubs in ‘affluent cities and major provincial towns’, 4 of the pubs in Cambridge ( The Punt Yard beside the Cam in Quayside, The Mill overlooking Mill Pond, the Cambridge Brew House in King Street and The Old Bicycle Shop in Regent Street. These ‘distinctive high quality pubs’ – in hectic tourist hot-spots, among shops in a bustling student precinct and beside a noisy commercial thoroughfare – are about to be joined by a new ‘City Pub’ bang in the middle of our quiet, densely-built and village-like residential neighbourhood at the corner of Hooper and Sturton Streets. Documents on file with Cambridge City Council show how City Pub are redeveloping the intimate, locally owned and managed Back Street Bistro (formerly ‘The White Hart’ since the 1870s) into one of the biggest pub-restaurants in the Mill Road area.

What follows is a progress report and a call for action. Our day of reckoning is at hand, Wednesday 1 February 2017, in Guildhall Committee Room 1 and 2. Planning Committee at its monthly meeting is recommended to approve City Pub’s application for this major redevelopment, which has been going on since October without formal permission (agenda with reports pack: Over 50 neighbours have sent in objections, with none supporting (Public Access Online Register: – enter reference 16/1760/FUL, click Comments, Public Comments). We have been invited to speak for a maximum total of 3 minutes. But the case as it stands looks grim, as do its implications for Petersfield.

Background report  – Licensing Sub-Committee, 28 November

Some of us sent in detailed objections (mine here). But the Sub-Committee stuck to the narrow issues and granted City Pub’s application to vary the Back Street Bistro’s premises licence. Results for the neighbourhood are as follows.


Opening hours: 11.00 to 00.30 (to 23.00 Sunday; exception New Year’s Eve)

Background ‘mood music’ playing: 11.00 to 00.30

External doors and windows are not required to be shut;

Alcohol supplied on and off the premises: 11.00 to 00.00 (to 22.30 Sunday; exception New Year’s Eve)

Daily from 07.00 to 23.00:

  • deliveries and collections at any time, including waste-dumping for removal near neighbouring houses;
  • mechanical ventilation system through roof outlet may run continuously;
  • live music entertainment may play indoors (to 22.30 Sunday);
  • outside seating areas may be in use Friday and Saturday (to 22.30 Sunday – Thursday) by as many as 38 customers, dining, drinking and smoking adjacent to neighbours’ gardens.

Among the reasons given for granting City Pub’s request was the Sub-Committee’s acceptance from City Pub ‘that the changes of the layout of the premises do not appear to increase the number of covers substantially’. This reason was based on a material error of fact, as demonstrated with fresh evidence (here; also at Public Access Online Register: – enter reference 16/1760/FUL, click Documents, 16 Jan 2017 Third Party Comments), and thus the determination was flawed. Despite some earlier confusion about numbers, it is now clear that the premises will expand from a capacity of 60 simultaneous ‘covers’ (or place-settings) as stated publicly by Back Street Bistro, to the 114 people/covers stated in City Pub’s planning application, a 90% increase in business capacity.

Most objections raised by ourselves, including customer traffic and noise and odour nuisance, were deemed irrelevant by the Sub-Committee, which said these can only be addressed by way of an application to review the premises licence. Other matters they deemed ‘for the planning committee to determine and are outside the remit of the licensing sub-committee’.

With City Pub’s CEO in attendance on 28 November, the Company’s attitude to our neighbourhood was on display: we were told that they are favouring us with a £500,000 investment, which will keep 2 Sturton Street from falling ‘derelict’. The new premises will come to be ‘loved by locals’. Those trying to attach ‘onerous conditions’ to the licence are ungrateful: ’It’s almost like we’re being punished’, grouched City Pub’s lawyer.

Planning Committee, Wednesday 1 February

Everything objectionable about this application flows from a business decision to reconfigure the premises to maximize revenue – to turn the intimate decade-old, locally owned and managed Back Street Bistro into the biggest of the 13 restaurants/pubs in the west Mill Road area. (All were visited and managers interviewed.) The linchpin of this redevelopment is SIZE. Day in, day out, 12 hours a day, 365 days a year, City Pub will pull in as many customers as possible, up to 114 at a time, to enjoy up-market and alfresco dining and drinking on a quiet corner of a non-through street within a conservation area in the city’s smallest and most densely populated ward (evidence here; also at Public Access Online Register: – enter reference 16/1760/FUL, click Documents, 16 Jan 2017 Third Party Comments). City Pub even plays up their vaulting ambition by proposing to call the latest addition to their chain of gastro-pubs: The Petersfield.

‘Inappropriate!’ you may growl, but the Planning department think otherwise. Enquiries have been made, facts and figures supplied. It now seems likely that almost every one of our objections to this redevelopment is destined to fail (mine here; also at Public Access Online Register: – enter reference 16/1760/FUL, click Documents, 11 Nov 2016 Third Party Comments). Why? Because the crux for Planning is CHANGE OF USE, not SIZE. And according to their research, no change of use is shown in City Pub’s planning application: the new premises are to still to be regarded as an appropriate pub/restaurant like the calm little Back Street Bistro (mixed A3/A4 use), even despite a near doubling of business capacity and the probable near-doubling of negative impacts on the neighbourhood. (The Back Street Bistro was objectionable on several counts.) City Pub are therefore entitled to do as they please within the premises – move the kitchen and loos upstairs, enlarge the licensed area, even in future extend capacity beyond 114 covers. Planning permission was needed only for external changes to the premises, or as City Pub’s application says, ‘replacement of existing roof plant’.


Planning Committee will not address or place ‘conditions’ with regard to these concerns:

  • near-doubling of seating capacity, including alfresco ground-floor terrace/covered area accommodating 38 covers and sharing walls with adjacent gardens;
  • only a single 1200mm staircase for all traffic to and from first-floor kitchen and lavatories, with no alternative first-floor escape route;
  • nature of staircase attachment to party wall with 4 Sturton Street;
  • first-floor kitchen and lavatory windows directly overlooking bedrooms and sitting rooms 10m across Hooper and Sturton streets;
  • noise and/or odour and/or light nuisance from first-floor kitchen and lavatory windows, which may be left open;
  • extra incoming vehicular traffic with consequent parking and cycle storage problems (100m from the Chisholm Trail ‘cycling superhighway’);
  • no required closure of external windows and doors on ground and first floors.

We understand that Planning are likely to regard all or most of these concerns as matters for other departments, such as Building Control, or Health and Safety, or Public Highways or even Licensing. Why? Because Planning cannot ‘condition’ anything that is not ‘reasonable’, ‘justified’ and ‘necessary’ according to its own protocols, however unreasonable, unjustified or unnecessary some things may appear to us. We are told that the tighter conditions put forward by the Environmental Health Officer (Public Access Online Register: 03 January 2017, Consultee Comments, ENVIRONMENTAL HEALTH) do not supersede those set by Licensing. Nor can conditions be laid down to anticipate problems that might arise only after the premises opens, such as street congestion and noise. The neighbourhood amenity is left to City Pub’s discretion.

What’s to be done?

If this information is correct, our best, most reasonable hope now seems to lie in the Planning Committee itself, which consists of ward councillors (our Kevin Blencowe is vice-chair). It is within their remit to interpret and apply planning protocols as circumstances may require (always mindful that City Pub may sue to reverse their decisions). So we can appeal to the Committee’s better natures. These councillors have neighbourhoods of their own; they will appreciate how ours is set to be transformed, its character and amenity jeopardized by a juggernaut parked on a corner of our back streets.

MASS PRESENCE IS PERSUASIVE. Please come early and be counted next Wednesday. The agenda (with reports pack: shows that our case, ‘2 Sturton Street’, will be the first of the ‘minor/other planning applications’ for consideration starting at 12.30 or after a thirty-minute lunch break. Venue: Guildhall Committee Room 1 and 2. The meeting is open to the public Deliberations might last an hour – then we shall know our fate.

But we fear not just the fate of  old ‘Sturton Town’. Why does this concern the rest of Petersfield? Because City Pub (East), plc is expanding, buying up property and developing it, adding links to their gastro-pub chain. A local proprietor has mooted in my presence that another corner site in Petersfield is being snapped up. It is not currently occupied by a public house, but neighbours of Live and Let Live and The Six Bells ought to be on guard. What happens in Sturton Street doesn’t stay in Sturton Street. It touches everyone in our city’s smallest and most densely populated ward.

James Moore, 6 Sturton Street