A CAFE owner and her loyal customers have been left devastated after she was forced to close.

Braintree Council’s planning committee met on Tuesday to discuss proposals to change the use of a property in Sible Hedingham from residential to part business.

The site, in Swan Street, is the home of Nicola Littlejohn who started her tea room business in lockdown.

Violet the Vintage Caravan opened 14 months ago and serves tea and cakes.

The business is based in a caravan on Nicola’s drive and has proved a hit with residents, but did not have planning permission.

A petition signed by almost 2,000 people was not enough to save the cafe.

It comes after complaints were made over the increased footfall on Swan Street due to the business.

Some supporters protested outside Braintree Council’s Causeway House HQ during the meeting.

Nicola spoke virtually at the meeting to plead her case.

But councillors said there were a number problems, including parking, lack of extraction ventilation, and the ability for the land to be sold and used by another food provider in the future.

Planning boss Gabrielle Spray said: “This is quite difficult for the planning committee because we all had a considerable number of emails from residents in support – very heartfelt.

“I read every single one and I do appreciate this is a very popular small business in this location and it was set up during very difficult times during Covid, with extremely good intentions.

“As far as this committee is concerned though, we have to make a decision based on planning grounds.

“We can’t judge it based on a popularity contest.”

A tearful Nicola said: “Support is overwhelming, both online and through private messages.

“I was heartbroken for the loss of my business, and having to tell my son was awful.

“I contacted my staff before the news came out, and they have all been amazing, but are all looking for new jobs now, which is really tough.

“I couldn’t even open today, I haven’t had the opportunity to get my head around it. I didn’t even get a week or so to get things sorted and say goodbye to customers.

“I was told last night it had to be shut immediately, which I feel was really unnecessary. Another few days wouldn’t have made much difference.

“I just feel a bit numb this morning.”