Agenda item

Petition: Save The Oriental in Merstham

To receive and consider a Petition regarding saving The Oriental in Merstham.


The Lead Petitioner, Councillor Khan, addressed Council, making the following observations:

·         The removal of small shops has had a negative effect on efforts to address social deprivation in Merstham. It has caused detriment to the elderly, disabled, financial compromised and care givers. The loss of these shops made a significant negative contribution to an established community when many were doing what they could to resist social decline.

·         Mrs Susan Wong, the owner of The Oriental, had cooked for Merstham for 23 years and felt that the Council did not care for local businesses. Other shop owners felt that businesses were being destroyed by Landlords with reduced lease length times being used to close businesses.

·         The Council was called on to take action, to:

1.    Immediately use an Article 4 Direction to remove Permitted Development Rights for change of use without waiting for a retail needs survey. It was already known that the community needed the shops which were at risk.

2.    Use its ability to invest to purchase the parade of shops.

3.    Apply for the parade to become an Asset of Community Value


Councillor Michalowski, the Portfolio Holder for Place, Planning and Regulatory Services, had given his apologies to the meeting. The response to the petition was therefore provided by Councillor Biggs, the Leader of the Council, who made the following comments:

·         The parade of shops in Merstham, which was the subject of the petition and debate, was not owned by the Council. Such parades played an important role in creating a sense of place for communities as well as providing important services for residents. This was why the Council had consistently objected to the expansion of Permitted Development Rights which had removed the rights of Councils to resist the removal of such local facilities.

·         The Local Plan would continue to be used to as far as possible protect local shops. However, developments could not be assessed against the Council’s own policies. Rather, there was a fixed standard for Permitted Development Rights which if passed, meant the development had to be passed.

·         A commitment had already been made to explore the potential of an Article 4 Directive to remove Permitted Development Rights for shops across the Borough. This was the only option available to the Council to resist the conversion of shops. Sadly, the evidence needed and the consultation required, meant that the shortest period for a Directive to be gained to remove Permitted Development Rights was a year. It typically took up to two years for a directive to be confirmed and the evidence needed for an application to be made needed to be robust.

·         There was support for affordable rents and favourable rental terms but these were not within the Council’s powers. The Council’s Economic Prosperity Team would be asked to reach out to the Landlord to see if there was anything that could be done to allow the Oriental to remain or other units to be restored.

·         All of the action requested within the petition was already being undertaken by the Council. Whilst it was not possible for the Council to get involved in individual planning proposals or to prevent evictions, it was possible for the Council to object to the expansion of Permitted Development Rights, explore the use of Article 4 Directions and engage with the Landlord to reach agreements for the benefit of the Community. On which basis, support was given to the petition.

·         The wording of the petition was read out in full.


One Member had registered to speak on the petition. Councillor Blacker made the following comments:

·         He supported retaining the Oriental which had existed for possibly 50 years, longer than stated in the petition.

·         Highlighted all the shops and services that had been lost from the parade due to rent increases by the Landlord. But stressed that there was nothing the Council could do to stop this occurring.

·         Called on Councillor Khan and the other Merstham Councillors, to look at making the parade into an Asset of Community Value. Councillor Blacker offered his support in this endeavour but noted the need to find the funding required to initially purchase this from the owner.

·         It was not desirable that the shops be turned into flats. This could cause a significant issue with parking.


Councillor Biggs confirmed his support for the petition.


Councillor Biggs proposed and Councillor Lewanski seconded a motion for the Council to accept the petition.


RESOLVED that the Council accept the petition.


Supporting documents: