Is coffee firm making mocha of city rules?

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COFFEE shop giant Starbucks, which has opened outlets in Edinburgh without proper planning permission, should be hauled before the city’s planning chiefs, it was claimed today.

Conservationists are furious at the way the international chain has been able to take over buildings in the Capital’s world heritage site.

Now Edinburgh City Council is facing demands to crack down on the Seattle-based chain for its unauthorised conversion of listed buildings.

The calls come as the company has tabled an application for planning permission to turn a former Royal Bank of Scotland branch in the West End into a coffee shop - even though it has been operating as such for more than a year.

Plans by Starbucks to convert a B-listed building in Palmerston Place into a restaurant were thrown out by the council after they were lodged two years ago.

Environmental health officers were worried about the impact of noise and activity in the coffee shop on its residential neighbours, particularly the occupants of the flat in the basement of the building, which was built in 1868.

The coffee shop plans, lodged in 2000, were opposed by several neighbours and the Architectural Heritage Society of Scotland, which is angry about changes made to the building without permission.

Planning officials are now reluctantly set to give the coffee shop permission, even though they acknowledge it has been operating "unauthorised" for some time.

Officials say that because there have been no complaints since it opened, Starbucks should be granted retrospective planning permission .

But the authority wants to impose a string of strict conditions on the site, including a complete ban on all cooking and limits on the volume of music played inside.

Head of planning Alan Henderson said: "Given the fact use is restricted, that there have been no complaints and the applicant is willing to accept a personal condition, it is considered the proposal no longer poses a threat to residential amenity."

The West End coffee shop, which opened in August 2000, is the second in Edinburgh the company has started operating without planning permission.

Last year the city’s heritage bodies attacked Starbucks after it emerged that it had converted another B-listed building, in George Street, before submitting plans to the authority, although councillors eventually gave it their backing.

Martin Hulse, director of the Cockburn Association, Edinburgh’s civic trust, today demanded the council "sorted out" the problem of Starbucks converting buildings without first seeking permission.

He said: "I think Starbucks should be contacted by the council and have the planning procedures explained to them to prevent this happening time and again. "

City planning convenor Bob Cairns today said it was "possible" councillors could seek talks with the company when the planning application is discussed on Wednesday.

He told the Evening News: "What Starbucks has been doing isn’t illegal but they’re running the risk of being ordered to turn something back into what it was before."

A spokeswoman for Starbucks, which now has 13 outlets in Edinburgh, said: "We can’t go into any details about individual planning applications, but we’re in discussions with the relevant authorities and obviously respect their views."