A DIGITAL marketing company has been granted planning permission to turn a kitchen showroom into its new headquarters.

CleverTouch, which manages email, website and social media functions for many major firms, is currently based in The Old Forge at The Dean in Alresford, but its lease there expires next year.

Officers recommended consent for a change of use of Searle & Taylor House in The Dene, Ropley, when CleverTouch’s application was considered by East Hampshire District Council’s planning committee on February 13.

However, the officers had also said parking standards for office use of the site required spaces for 35 cars, and only 11 spaces were available.

Speaking at the meeting, Wendy Holt - a resident of neighbouring Darvill Road for more than 30 years - called for CleverTouch to bring in its employees by bus and said more cars parked outside Searle & Taylor House would make it difficult for emergency vehicles and residents’ cars to get in and out of Darvill Road.

She added: "Don’t let locals’ lives and freedom of movement become impossible."

Cllr George Brown, of Ropley Parish Council, said there was insufficient parking and that CleverTouch should either find spaces at Ropley Business Park and bus in its employees, or demolish a workshop on the site - a legacy of its use as a Toyota garage - to create more spaces.

CleverTouch owner Nick Burrell said the company had more than 50 staff but many were based at its clients’ sites. He added not many people visited its headquarters, it was open only during normal office hours and 80 per cent of CleverTouch’s employees lived within 15 miles of Alresford.

He said: "We take our responsibilities for employees, clients and others very seriously."

Cllr Charles Louisson said: "I actively encourage employment in the village and 50 jobs is significantly more than the former Toyota garage or the current kitchen showroom.

"The Winchester to Alton number 64 bus goes right past the door and some employees may use that. The large workshop at the rear could be removed to provide 18-20 spaces. There should be sufficient room in the main building for 50 staff.

"It’s very unusual that more than three or four cars are there now, which is presumably why the occupiers are leaving. This will be dramatically different."

Cllr Ferris Cowper said: "I’m loathe to contemplate refusal because it’s a great idea. In these village communities you need this kind of thing. There is a presumption in favour of development and no new demonstrable harm as the parking problem was there before."

Cllr Keith Budden said: "I welcome the idea of bringing employment into the centre of Ropley. It will provide more sustainability for the local shop as people will go there at lunchtime.

"When it was a Toyota garage vehicles were left there for servicing and picked up in the evening, so they would be there all day.

"I’m minded to come down in favour of ’yes’ for this and I’m encouraged by the comment of the applicant that 80 per cent of staff live within 15 miles."

Cllr Robert Mocatta said: "If it was a new-build scheme, as opposed to a new use, it would not be appropriate. But we are very keen to encourage these types of employers to employ people in East Hampshire, so economic development outweighs parking concerns."

Cllr Andrew Joy said: "The owner knows his business and if he thinks it’s ideal for him then it’s fairly positive it’s going to stack up.

"The hardstanding outside has been used for parking for years without any significant problems."