Sherringtons (part 1)
And so the journey begins.
In point of fact it started some six months ago, but the work to turn number 57 Kenyon Road - next door to our offices at 55 Kenyon Road - into a new craft beer bar now starts in earnest. The bar is to be branded ‘Sherringtons’, named after the hardware store that occupied the premises for many years. The focus is on creating a quality experience by targeting a mature and discerning audience with a carefully curated selection of craft beers sourced predominantly from Wigan based micro brewery Wily Fox, it will also serve barista style coffees and light snacks. We’re looking to emulate the best of the independent bars that are usually only found in city centres for example Bock, Cottonopolis and Arcane in Manchester or Berry & Rye and Leaf in Liverpool.
The near six month long prelude is the reason for not declaring the idea sooner because, during this time, there’s been a long and slow process of applications and committee meetings with Wigan Council to go through which have determined whether it would go ahead at all. This process started with a formal hearing for a Licence held in the Council chambers just before Christmas which was quite an intimidating legal process with around 20 local objectors arranged on onside of the court and 4 applicants on the other facing a 5 man committee with a lawyer and clerk of the court. The issues, primarily around potential disturbance, were debated but we satisfied the Council’s criteria and were granted a licence to serve alcohol.
Alongside the application for a licence, we also made a planning application for 'change of use from A3 [cafe] to A4 [bar]' along with a small extension to the rear and a terrace on the front. This might seem like a fairly logical and straightforward request given the same Council had already granted a licence and it’s basically the same criteria but, dealing with Wigan’s planning department hasn’t been easy. In their defence they are, by all accounts understaffed and consequently overstretched, but resolving issues has felt, at times, like being in an episode of the Crystal Maze.
We tried in vain to get a 'pre-application consultation' so we could understand what designs they would accept before making an application, but we were asked to send drawings for feedback. We sent options A B or C to which we got the confusing answer ‘yes, they seem fine.’ So the designs we submitted were a bit of a stab in the dark. Then there was a stream of issues and queries; correspondence hadn’t been sent by The Council causing delays; a coal mining risk assessment was needed; changes had to be made to the plans and resubmitted; this was followed by a statutory period of notification which led to some objections - and if there’s more than 10 it has to go to another committee; oh and this only sits once a month so we had 2 weeks; then they brought the deadline forward because of the Easter break so we only had 1.
At one point we were told we’d missed the boat for the April committee which, given that the application was made back in November would have made the process well over 6 months long, but with furious emailing back and forth of amended designs - version after version - we managed to satisfy the planning officer’s relatively minor concerns and the more confusing requests from Highways (who couldn’t seem to grasp that there was already a large deliveries and parking area at the premises which has been used as a shop for about 100 years). Fortunately the planning officer argued this successfully with them and managed to get a deadline extension so that he could prepare his report which supported the application.
This report was then presented at the planning committee which was, in contrast to the lengthy debate at the licence hearing, an altogether more perfunctory affair. After the planning officer’s report, which took about 15 minutes and went into some detail, both the proposers and the objectors got a strict 4 minutes to state their cases, then they just turn the microphone off. The objectors focused on the potential for noise and disruption whilst we reiterated the plans to create a quality craft beer bar for a mature audience and that we’d met all the stipulations of the licence around dispersal, operational and management policies. We then highlighted Wigan Council’s plans around the development of the town in readiness for HS2 - these trains will be coming through Wigan in just 7 years times - which is a great opportunity to attract and retain professional inhabitants. The Council has stated that if Wigan is to take advantage of the new connectivity it needs to be seen as a great place to live which means a healthy mix of quality residential, retail and leisure property. If the town is to compete with the likes of Altrincham and Knutsford, it needs a leisure infrastructure with independent coffee shops, artisan bakeries and craft beer bars - just like Sherringtons. Then, with the pitches made, the committee members made their comments - some frighteningly misinformed given that you don’t get the opportunity to answer back - then made their decision. With 5 supporting, 2 not and 1 abstention, the application was approved.
And so the journey begins.