Restaurant operators are calling on the British Hospitality Association (BHA) to lobby the government over ‘ridiculous planning laws’ that they blame for halting the development of the restaurant sector on our high streets, writes Emma Eversham. Despite there being many empty retail units available in towns and cities, many operators are finding it difficult to find suitable A3 sites for expansion because it can be costly and take a long time to be granted change of use. In a survey by Allegra, 56 per cent of operators said they were having problems finding good sites, compared with 42 per cent last year. Speaking during a panel debate at the Allegra Restaurant Leader last week, Robin Rowland, chief executive of YO! Sushi said: “The BHA has just approached the government about VAT and we should also be lobbying the government about these ridiculous planning laws.” “It’s a real problem that the government are not listening to us in the hospitality industry,” added Carluccio’s chief executive Simon Kossoff. “[These planning laws] are such a nonsense. The high street is dying because of the internet, but restaurants are not exposed to the same pressures. People can’t get a restaurant experience over the internet, so we have to sort it out.” The BHA said gaining planning permission had been a problem for many years, but pledged to discuss it at its next committee meeting if the situation was worsening. Intense competition for A3 restaurant units in certain areas is actually forcing some operators to modify their formats so they can use smaller, but more readily available A1 (retail units). London-based restaurant operator Canteen, is planning to open in a number of A1 sites for a fast-service, hot and cold food offer, which it says would allow it to grow faster in a market where competition for A3 units, its usual size unit, was strong. “We have been approached by a lot of landlords to see whether we have an A1 offer because there’s a lot of A1 sites available,” Canteen’s Clayton-Malone told M&C Report’s sister publication BigHospitality last month. “We can quite easily tailor our offer to an A1 and it’s something we’ve discussed with landlords over the last five years, but until now haven’t been ready to exploit or look at.” Not all operators can scale down their concept, however. Jacob Sumner, UK managing director of burgeoning US Mexican restaurant chain Chipotle, said the company needed large units to be able to fulfil its aim of making its menu from scratch on site, so could only consider A3. And Jillian Maclean, managing director of Drake & Morgan, typically only chooses large sites for her city pubs because she wants customers to enjoy space that they wouldn’t necessarily have in their own homes. “I walk past buildings every day that are empty and that we could fill,” she added.