Shopkeepers in Shenley Road have spoken out against companies they believe are flouting planning guidelines “to suit themselves”.

Last month Starbucks coffee company opened on the premises previously occupied by Marks & Spencer.

Under the Town and Country Planning (Use Classes) Order 1987, businesses must obtain planning permission if the use of the premises changes, for example from a retail outlet to a restaurant or café.

However, Starbucks has not applied to Hertsmere Borough Council for A3 status for restaurants and cafés.

Starbucks has argued it can operate under an A1 retail unit licence because most of the products are bought to eat or drink off the premises.

It is the same argument used by Subway sandwich shop when it opened in January 2005, where Radio Rentals used to be. The case against Subway was dropped and discussions are ongoing with Starbucks.

In March 2006, Caffè Nero applied for A3 status at the same time it renovated its premises.

This interpretation of the guidelines has angered other business owners who believe the bigger companies are taking over Borehamwood’s high street.

Edwin Nelken, chairman of Hertsmere’s Chamber of Trade, said: “The large multinational organisations are bullying the council to get their own way by bending the rules to suit themselves and ignoring or overriding the regulations, with their financial backing which the council cannot or will not compete with.

“It is a shame we don’t have a council with the guts to stand up for what is right and avoid the total destruction and individuality of our high street.”

According to the Local Plan 2003, approximately 33 per cent of shops along Shenley Road can be non-retail units, but with food and drink companies able to trade under alternative agreements, the true divide of businesses is unknown.

Tony Petrou, owner of Baker Street café, said: “When Subway opened, it was serving hot food but said it could get away with A1 categorisation. What it’s really saying is ‘take us to court if you dare’. It’s the same with Starbucks. The council isn’t prepared to spend money to fight these businesses.

“Meanwhile our piece of the customer-base pie is getting smaller and smaller.”

Mark Silverman, Hertsmere Borough Council’s policy and transport manager, said: “The council considers all planning applications on their own individual merits, having regard to our own plan policies.

“However, we are hamstrung by the statutory regulations which allow for some coffee shops and sandwich shops to be classified as retail operations, even though they may resemble a café or takeaway in appearance.

“Although it can be frustrating that the regulations do not more closely reflect modern retail formats, we believe operations such as Starbucks can help to draw more trade into a part of the town centre and help to enhance it overall.”

A Starbucks spokesman said: “It’s incredibly important to us at Starbucks that we are respectful and sensitive to each community where we operate. In each case Starbucks seeks independent advice and the guidance of each local authority, before and throughout the planning process, and acts consistently with the rest of the coffee shop industry. Starbucks will continue to respect and comply with the advice and guidance of the local authority.”