Leeds City Council ties up struggling small business in red tape

A highly popular small restaurant in Meanwood has had its planning application for a potentially business-saving ‘extension’ rejected by Leeds City Council on the basis that it would “have a harmful impact on the character of the area.

Culto Italian opened its doors in 2015 selling restaurant-quality Italian food at takeaway prices and quickly gained popularity, expanding and rebranding only a year later to allow for sit-in eating. It has breathed life into a previously neglected area and has become a hit among locals; so much so that it has had a positive knock-on effect on other local businesses. 

Leeds resident and regular customer Rachel Whitaker says, “I personally never really ventured into Meanwood before I discovered [Culto], yet it’s now a firm favourite...What is disappointing is that the business isn’t being allowed to grow and respond to the community’s love for it.”

Amazingly, owner Elvi Brizi who describes Culto as “my dream”, has managed to retain all 12 of his staff and has not furloughed a single employee during lockdown, with the business instead managing to rely on takeaway orders. However this is a state of affairs which may not be able to continue much longer.

According to Brizi, restaurant income is down 40 percent due to social distancing regulation which sees the sit-in capacity reduced from 10 tables down to 4 and jobs may soon have to be cut. 

The proposed ‘extension’ is a tent-like structure much like those found commonly in European cities such as Madrid and Barcelona where al fresco eating is the norm.

It would be located on a bare piece of tarmac already owned and maintained by the restaurant directly outside.

Most importantly it would allow for extra sit-in eating space as well as enabling Culto to employ additional staff.

Despite its potential as a livelihood-saving structure and with the restaurant haemorrhaging money every day, Leeds City Council first delayed their response to the time-sensitive planning application and then, after being prompted, responded in an email last week implying that the application would be denied on the basis that its “design and scale is unacceptable and would have a harmful impact on the character of the area.” Culto still awaits an “official” response in order to be able to launch an appeal.

If you would like to support Culto’s planning application go to https://www.leeds.gov.uk/planning/planning-permission/view-and-comment-on-planning-applications and make a supporting comment for Culto’s planning application.