The Cyclist café in Sudbury outlines conversion plans to future-proof viability in response to community petition against changes
A closed Sudbury café seeking to be redeveloped for mixed commercial and residential use says the plans are needed to future-proof its viability, amid opposition fearing its loss as a community venue.
The Cyclist in Ballingdon Street, which has remained shut since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic, has applied for planning permission to convert its ground-floor café into a part retail and part residential site.
The change-of-use application also aims to re-purpose a shed for holiday let, and redevelop a disused ancillary cellar for commercial use.
According to a planning statement, the overall scheme is intended to “support sustainable, low overhead commercial activities, based on a realistic low volume throughput”, after deeming the café to be unviable, having operated at a loss since opening in 2017.
“Indeed, because of its location, and the heritage aspects of the site, it will never expand to compete with large town centre commercial sites,” the statement reads.
“Hence, to be commercially viable the commercial property would benefit from rationalisation.”
However, the proposal has faced opposition, over concerns that Ballingdon could lose its last remaining community venue, which previously operated for many decades at the King’s Head pub, until its closure in 2015.
An online petition against the application has so far received more than 250 signatures, arguing that a new commercial venture would also negatively impact nearby shops.
The petition, which can be viewed here, reads: “The venue has been central to forming a sense of community in recent years and should not be lost.
“We feel the venue can be made to be profitable and would be interested in running it as a community project.”
The scheme has also received several objections on Babergh District Council’s online planning portal, including Elizabeth Stewart, who owns the nearby Strawberry Stores on Ballingdon Street.
“I am most concerned about the impact of a retail use being granted to this property,” she wrote.
“My tenant who runs the shop is not making a huge profit and any competition would cause him a significant loss. The rental value of my property would suffer making the running of the shop unviable, forcing it to close with a loss of an amenity to the area.”
In response, The Cyclist owner Theo Bird stated he had no intention of opening a convenience store to compete with Strawberry Stores, which he said he had helped to promote during lockdown.
He described the online petition as “factually incorrect”, adding that he was “extremely disappointed” by abuse he has reportedly received on social media over the proposals.
“We have thought very carefully about these plans, especially after lockdown,” he told Suffolk News.
"We are losing 20 square metres of space on the western side of the building, but gaining 84 square metres on the eastern side, increasing community amenity space, trebling employment while reducing the commercial rental value by less than half – securing any future rural trading, which includes the continued operation of the café affordably.
“If we are unable to preserve the commercial floor space and have to enter a drawn out consultation process, it’s most likely we will opt to convert the entire ground floor to residential – something we are very keen to avoid.
“At that point, businesses may approach us to discus their business plan and we might consider it. We thank all past patrons for their support.”
To view the planning application, visit Babergh's online planning portal here and use the reference code DC/21/03643.