St Albans Civic Society scoffs at Jamie’s Italian expansion bid

Jamie's Italian have applied to expand into the empty shops beside it

Jamie's Italian have applied to expand into the empty shops beside it - Credit: Archant

CELEBRITY chef Jamie Oliver’s push to expand his St Albans restaurant to add a delicatessen has been criticised as a step backwards in boosting the retail sector.

It has been revealed that the British chef wants to extend into two vacant shops next to his restaurant, the former Bell pub in Chequer Street, to also sell tea and coffee.

Ironically, shortly after Jamie’s Italian opened in February 2012 an existing Italian coffee house and deli operating opposite the celebrity’s restaurant in the Maltings, Olio & Farina, closed down.

Jamie’s agents have applied to St Albans district council for a change of use to mixed use, to allow the creation of a delicatessen at the former Snappy Snaps and an opticians’ stores next door.

The proposal includes linking the restaurant to the deli, which would sell a variety of food and drinks and offer seating for about 30 customers to enable them to have a tea or coffee before eating at Jamie’s Italian.

But the plan has been criticised by Eric Roberts, from the St Albans Civic Society.

He said the civic watchdogs had lodged an objection to the application as it would mean the loss of two retail stores.

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Eric added: “We had no alternative but to object because there is a melt-down of coffee shops in the city centre, and a loss of retail. We have to put a marker in the sand.”

He warned: “St Albans will cease to be a shopping destination. People won’t come here to have coffee. It undermines efforts to boost the retail sector.

“People are saying, ‘oh no, not another coffee shop’. The Civic Society has told the council to get a grip – that is what proper planning is about.”

He revealed the society had also discovered that Pret A Manger has recently applied to the council for planning permission for retrospective change of use from retail to mixed, and restaurant and café.

That is despite already renovating the former HMV store on St Peter’s Street, and recently opening its doors to customers.

Its scheme says the front of the café “would be” split equally to provide a service and takeaway part, and seating area.

Eric said it showed that current planning laws were “wishy-washy” and confused.

The council’s interim head of planning and building control Simon Rowberry confirmed the scheme was out for public consultation “and will be assessed on its planning merits”.

There have also been rumours locally that the Monsoon and Accessorize stores in Market Place, to close their doors in August, will be turned into a Caffè Nero.

A spokeswoman for the coffee chain said: “At present we unfortunately have no plans to open in the city although we have looked at properties in the past, and continue to remain interested in the possibility.”