Proposals to operate a ‘robotic’ retail pharmaceutical business from an industrial estate unit have been rejected by the planning committee by the narrowest of margins.

Island-based pharmaceutical company Kingsley Muti Ltd has a wholesale warehouse on the Balthane Industrial Estate but had applied for a change of use to allow it to be used for a pharmacy dispensing site and pick up place for prescription medicines (23/01468/C).

Planning officer Jason Singleton had recommended approval for the application for BMS House, Portway. But going before the planning committee last week, the vote was split and the application was rejected on the casting vote of chairman Rob Callister MHK.

Pharmacist and former Tynwald president Steve Rodan was one of those who objected to the plans and welcomed the committee’s decision. He said: ‘It was a split vote three-three and the chairman had the casting vote and voted against. I think it is obviously going to appeal. This application is not just wholesaling, to which there is not the slightest objection. The zoning is clearly set out in the Strategic Plan and Southern Area Plan and Balthane is zoned for industrial use and not for retail. The only retail permitted is for larger items like furniture.’

Kingsley Muti, whose directors include former Microgaming chief executive officer Roger Raatgever. is largely focused on the bulk storage and distribution of medicines to pharmacies and hospitals, both locally and abroad.

It said it aims to be the largest dispensing pharmacy in the island by pioneering robotic medicine dispensing, with a long-term plan to dispense pharmaceuticals around the world.

Medicines, purchased in bulk, would go through a degree of robotic sorting, packaging and dispensing as per the prescription/order and then sent out for collection or delivery. Kingsley Muti said it wanted the premises to become a ‘retail pharmacy’, but had no plans to act as a retail shop selling toiletries and nappies etc.

Manx Care had supported the application and added the company to the pharmaceutical list. But the Department of Health and Social Care said it did not consider it could register the premises for retail sale or supply given the current planning designation.

In its submission the DHSC said: ‘The department notes that the Area Plan for the South designates the location as being for industrial use.

‘There is an established area for retail premises within Ballasalla and the south of the island and the department would query the need to establish further areas for retail premises especially where there are a number of vacant retail premises which would be suitable for this use.’

Planning officer Mr Singleton acknowledged that the land is not designated for the proposed use but said the change of use was not considered to be unacceptable.

He said: ‘The use as a retail pharmacy, essentially at the front of the building, would be of a small scale, essentially being ancillary. This proposal is not seen to undermine the vitality and viability of town centre retail areas.’