CAFÉ owners who applied for a licence to sell alcohol faced opposition from a neighbour complaining about cooking smells and noise.

Engin Kocer and Joanne Mitchell, owners of the Piano Café, in Ditchling Road, Brighton, applied to Brighton and Hove City Council for a drinks licence from 4pm to 10pm Monday to Saturday.

Their upstairs neighbour Oliver Ferns objected and the council convened a licensing panel to decide the application.

The Argus:

The panel, made up three councillors, held a virtual hearing.

The hearing was told that Sussex Police did not oppose the application. But the force asked for a condition that alcohol only be served with a main meal, should the panel approve the licence.

Mr Kocer and Ms Mitchell said that they opened their business by Fiveways on a “bring your own bottle” basis without any issues.

But Mr Ferns said that the café was never previously open in the evening and had always been a shop.

He said: “The shop has not been open later than 5pm and has not been running evenings as ‘bring your own’. Otherwise, I would surely have made a complaint.

“There is no evidence at all that this has been a restaurant. It is not big enough to be a restaurant. There is no kitchen – and the ventilation shaft vents next to my bedroom window.”

Mr Ferns said that he had an outstanding complaint lodged with the council’s environmental health department about the café.

He said that environmental health officials had objected to two planning applications last year for a change of use from a shop to a café.

One application was refused and the second was withdrawn earlier this year.

But planning laws changed this year and now allow a shop to be turned into a café if no additional planning restrictions – known as article 4 directions – have been set by the council.

Mr Ferns said that nothing was cooked on site under the previous owner as it was a coffee shop selling cakes bought in from outside.

Green councillor Lizzie Deane, who chaired the licensing panel, said that she was aware of reviews on the website TripAdvisor for North Village café at the same site which included comments about food from May 2018.

Councillor Deane said: “It seems to me what we have here is an environmental health concern rather than issues of it being a restaurant.

“If there is a problem with noise between one premises and another, that would be something for environmental health rather than us here as a licensing panel.

“Likewise, the positioning of the vent is for environmental health and doesn’t make any difference to whether or not we grant a licence to sell alcohol.

“If we don’t, legally, this can carry on as a restaurant.”

She also said that anything to do with planning would also be a separate matter for another committee.

The key issues for the panel were the licensing objectives, Councillor Deane said, with a focus on public nuisance, crime and disorder.

She asked licensing officer Mark Savage-Brookes if Sussex Police had mentioned any concerns with crime and disorder in the area and he said that there were none.

The panel’s legal adviser, Rebecca Sidell, said that whether food was currently served of an evening was not a consideration for the licensing panel.

She also said that environmental health officials had made no representations about the licensing application – and a planning application would be necessary only if the law changed.

Ms Mitchell, 37, said that they had received permission to cook on site from the council.

She said: “We did stop cooking when Mr Ferns made a complaint. We abide by the council’s rules. We didn’t want to cause any issues.

“When the council came back and gave us permission, we started cooking again within reason.”

Ms Mitchell said that the business had a small kitchen and currently seated six people because of the coronavirus restrictions.

She said that the Turkish meals served in the evening were cooked off site and warmed at the café.

Her partner Mr Kocer, 38, said that adding the likes of beer and wine to their offer would help to support the business through the current difficult time.

Both Mr Kocer and Ms Mitchell had experience of working in the hotel industry, the panel was told.

Despite the name – Piano Café – the owners played recorded music rather than hosting live performances.

The licensing panel retired to make its decision which should be made public within five working days.