A POPULAR Wilmslow restaurant which was facing closure has been thrown a lifeline after councillors gave the owner the go-ahead to continue using an outdoor dining area.

Sotto, on Wareham Street, has temporary permission to use the outside area constructed on open space during the pandemic, but that was due to expire in October.

Cheshire East’s planning officers recommended councillors refuse an application to make the permission permanent, despite the owner providing financial information to show the business would close without it.

The planners said it would be contrary to open space policies and they were concerned the materials would not be appropriate for a permanent structure.

But at Wednesday’s meeting of the northern planning committee, councillors called for ‘common sense’ to be applied.

The application had already been deferred from a meeting in March for financial information to be provided.

Knutsford Guardian: Cllr David JefferayCllr David Jefferay (Image: Cheshire East Council)

Committee member David Jefferay (Ind), who spoke as ward councillor and then left the room, so did not take part in the debate or vote, told the meeting: “The [open] space remains available to the public as part of the restaurant. It sees far more use than it ever did as a piece of grass, provides employment and economic benefit to the town… and, importantly, it has the widespread, almost universal, support among residents.”

He said 1,400 people had signed a petition backing the restaurant, and the financial information requested had been provided and ‘vitally it confirms that this restaurant will go under if the application is not approved’.

Bollington councillor Ken Edwards (Lab) asked officers why they couldn’t support the application.

Knutsford Guardian: Cllr Ken EdwardsCllr Ken Edwards (Image: Cheshire East Council)

“We’ve heard from our local member very clearly that the open space situation is now being used extremely positively to benefit residents in Wilmslow and it wasn’t before,” he said. “I ‘d just like to know what weighs on the officers’ minds within our planning arrangements, that allows us to support the refusal of this request?”

Planning officer Paul Wakefield told him applications were determined in accordance with the development plan, unless other material considerations indicate otherwise, and that officers were also concerned how long the structure would last because of the materials.

Cllr Andrew Kolker (Dane Valley, Con) asked about the significance of the town centre vitality plans and said: “I believe these vitality plans commit Cheshire East to supporting the viability and vitality of town centres.”

Knutsford Guardian: Cllr Michael GormanCllr Michael Gorman (Image: Cheshire East Council)

Wilmslow councillor Michael Gorman (Ind) said there is considerable support for the application in the town and ‘there’s also a need here for some common sense, some flexibility and also some context’.

He told the meeting: “This is a strip of land smaller than this bit of carpet in front of you. The site is of minimal amenity value. I’ve lived in Wilmslow for 25 years and, before this, I never saw anybody walk across it. It’s now popular, it’s heavily used, there’s no objection from Wilmslow Town Council, there’s a 1,400 petition from local people to use it, other businesses around are benefiting from the success of the restaurant as it now is.”

Cllr Edwards proposed the committee extend the temporary permission for five years and this was seconded by Prestbury councillor Thelma Jackson (Con).

Cllr Gorman urged them to withdraw their proposal so the possibility of a permanent permission could be discussed first, but they didn't agree.

The committee voted by five votes to four in favour of extending the temporary permission for the outside dining area until October 2028 saying that when that expired, if no further permission is granted, the land be restored.

The applicant also agreed to submit a tree management plan for the site.