AN artisan bakery and shop which will work alongside charities is set to open next month in a town centre.

Managers at The Clervaux Trust, which runs similar outlets in Darlington and Northallerton and aims to open a further bakery in Stokesley High Street later this year, said Olivia’s Artisan Foods in Thirsk Market Place would offer “a new retail experience” to the town.

A meeting of Hambleton District Council planning committee heard Thirsk Town Council and some traders and residents had objected to the trust’s application to change the use of the former Julian Graves shop to a mixed shop and café, despite it having remained vacant since the firm went into administration last year.

Mark Terry, who has run the nearby Arabica Coffee Bar & Café for nine years, said with 21 daytime catering outlets within a 100-yard radius, as well as pubs which could in future provide food during the day, it would be “totally unreasonable” for the council to grant the plan.

He said: “I fully understand that empty shops are far from ideal, but surely the onus should be placed on landlords to rent out buildings to a suitable business."

A town council spokesman said while the preferred ratio of shop-type uses to others, such as cafes, was about three to one, in Thirsk there were almost equal numbers of both types.

He said: “Thirsk is a tourist destination, but we need more than the World of James Herriot and cafes to continue to attract visitors, otherwise the town will die.”

The bakery said one third of the premises would be used for the café, with the remainder being as a shop.

Steve Hewitt, manager of the Northallerton cafe, told the meeting his customers had called for a branch of the cafe in Thirsk and that its ethically and locally-produced organic range would offer a further incentive for tourists to visit the town centre.

He stressed that as the bakery was a social enterprise, it had to pay full business rates and rent."

After councillors voted unanimously to approve the plan, a spokesman for the bakery, which provides training to unemployed young people, said it had begun making links with charities in the area to offer a range of community-based activities and initiatives.