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Tower Bridge Road payday loan shop plan blocked by councillors

A bid to open a controversial payday loan shop in Tower Bridge Road has been halted by Bermondsey Community Council.

Tower Bridge Road payday loan shop plan blocked by councillors

The community council's six Liberal Democrat members voted unanimously to refuse planning permission despite the recommendation of council officers that the go-ahead should be given.

Instant Cash Loans Ltd – which trades as The Money Shop – has more than 400 branches up and down the country.

The application for change of use from amusement arcade to class A2 (financial and professional services) for the shop at 82 Tower Bridge Road was brought to the community council due to the number of objections received.

The 11 written representations included claims that the change would encourage people on low incomes to borrow money at high rates of interest whilst more affordable loans are available locally from London Mutual Credit Union.

Opposition to the proposed new payday loan shop has been led by Labour councillor Claire Hickson whose Chaucer ward includes the western side of Tower Bridge Road opposite the premises. She was joined at the meeting by local residents and Labour activists Kevin Dolan and Charlie Samuda.

In a written submission Cllr Hickson said that the southern end of Tower Bridge Road was home to a large number of small, independent businesses which should be protected. The applicant was a national chain and allowing more national chains could push small businesses out.

She continued: "The proposal is contrary to the Core Strategy of reducing inequalities. MPs from all political parties have been campaigning against the practices of payday loan companies which apply huge interest rates, and this business has been criticised in Parliament for such practices."

Speaking during the meeting she stressed that the Government's new National Planning Policy Framework should be a "material consideration" despite officers' claims that it wasn't relevant.

The applicant's agent claimed that the payday shop would bring increased footfall to Tower Bridge Road and create 16 new jobs.

The hour-long debate covered traffic problems as well as objections to the introduction of any financial services which might reduce the area's retail attraction.

However, the main discussion focused on the interpretation of the National Planning Policy Framework which emphasises 'a presumption in favour of sustainable development'.

Lib Dem councillors claim that alterations to the NPPF proposed by their parliamentary colleagues enable councillors to consider the social and environmental consequences of development as well as economic sustainability.

Cllr Nick Stanton considered that traffic issues were a "red herring" but backed Cllr Hickson's claim that the NPPF was relevant.

"We have seen in Bermondsey Street a loss of retail for licensed premises and offices and it would be nice to protect this part of Tower Bridge Road as a niche area," he said. "We prefer this to be retail and nothing else."

In answer to suggestions that the new planning guidelines had yet to be tested on appeal, Cllr Mark Gettleson declared: "Someone has to test the NPPF and it might as well be us."

Speaking after the meeting, Cllr Hickson said: "I am delighted that we succeeded in getting this application for a new payday loan shop refused.

"The local Labour Party campaigned against it and for it to be taken to community council for a decision.

"The recently published National Planning Policy Framework says sustainable economic development should be at the centre of all planning decisions.

"I argued that the presence of these shops is the opposite of sustainable economic development – they have grown rapidly in deprived areas while the economy and incomes decline. They send a bad signal about the health of our high streets.

"I am thrilled that Bermondsey councillors agreed that this part of Tower Bridge Road needs a boost not a business like this one.

"My major concern about payday loans is that they can trap consumers in a cycle of debt if they cannot pay off the loan on time. Southwark and Lambeth Labour councillors have been campaigning against them since last year.

"Given the amount of concern about them, I am disappointed the Government is not prepared to go further than discussing a voluntary code of conduct to regulate them."

Cllr Nick Stanton said: "We want to protect the retail offer in shopping parades like Tower Bridge Road and don't want to see shop units being lost to the financial services industry.

"I'm pleased this new power, created by our local MP and the Liberal Democrats in the Coalition Government, has allowed us to reject this planning application it is an example of the good work being done by the Liberal Democrats in Government which is having a real impact for local people here in Southwark."

• Next month Southwark's community councils are due to be stripped of their powers to determine local planning applications such as this one. In future decisions on small-scale schemes will either be decided by officers or by a sub-committee of councillors drawn from across the borough.

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