AUDIO: Southwold’s fight to stop Costa Coffee backed by campaign in Totnes, South Devon

SOUTHWOLD'S bid to stop a national chain opening a coffee shop in the town has been backed by an organisation championing local businesses in south Devon.

The fight to stop Costa Coffee united Southwold and Totnes with both places fearing the chain's presence would affect local traders and suppliers.

It comes just days before a crucial meeting on Tuesday where Waveney District Council's development control committee will decide whether a Costa Coffee caf� is opened at 70 High Street, Southwold – formerly the Fanny & Franks clothes shop.

Chairman of Southwold and District Chamber of Trade Guy Mitchell has welcomed the support from Totnes and called for people to attend the crunch meeting on Tuesday.

At present more than 80 people, including Southwold Town Council, the Chamber of Trade and the Southwold and Reydon Society have opposed the application for a 'change of use', which would allow Costa Coffee to sell food and drink at the property on High Street.

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But they were met with disappointment last week when Waveney District Council planning officers recommended support for the proposal.

Costa Coffee has defended its plans, claiming a new caf� would create jobs, prevent a shop remaining empty during the tough economic climate and increase footfall for surrounding businesses.

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But economics guru Andrew Simms, of the New Economics Foundation, has criticised the national chains in small towns for being 'fundamentally disinterested' in local economies.

Frances Northrop is manager of Transition Town Totnes – an organisation supporting independent economies which is objecting to plans for a Costa Coffee in Totnes.

She said: 'We offer our full support to the campaign in Southwold and are hugely encouraged that the negative effect of chain stores on local economies is increasingly an issue seen to be worth fighting in towns across the UK. Ultimately it's the community that knows its own needs and that voice is getting louder.

She added: 'We are working to build the resilience of our local area.

'Totnes has a strong local food economy because we have small farms producing food for local shops.

'Our real concern with Costa Coffee is that they have controlled distribution for their food and won't be supporting local providers. It could displace jobs.

'We already have great independent coffee shops in Totnes, but they will go out of business as well.'

Mrs Northrop added: 'It is not just about having strong local suppliers. We need to keep money flowing locally and not going out of the town.'

At a meeting last month, Southwold Town Council agreed to fight the proposal by Costa Coffee after agreeing it could pose a potential threat to the character of the High Street and affect the 20 other caf�s and restaurants in the town. But some members questioned whether the planning objection was 'water-tight' enough to be backed by Waveney, which will make the final decision.

The move came after the Southwold and Reydon Society and the Southwold Chamber of Trade had launched a joint campaign against the proposal.

Speaking at the Hay Literature Festival, Mr Simms said: 'Because of the way chain stores are linked in to remote supply structures, institutional investors who are also remote and will have no knowledge of your local economy, all the demands and the pattern of business that are focused into those kinds of franchise models are fundamentally disinterested in the overall health and wellbeing and vibrancy of the local economy.

'They are interested in one thing, and that is sucking in consumer spending to be extracted from the local economy, shuffled off to head office to pay for centralised logistics and the expectations of remote, disinterested investors in the city. It is an extractive industry.

'So the difference between a chain coffee store and one which is independent, and local, is to do with who does their accounts each year, or who cleans their windows, they're much more likely to be re-circulating the spending that goes on in that local outlet in the local economy, bringing much broader social and economic benefits.'

Mr Mitchell said: 'The situation they are facing in Totnes shows it is not just a local issue but a national one as well.

'Other towns have tried and failed to stop them opening branches of Costa Coffee.

'We are urging people to attend the meeting on Tuesday evening. But the message we want to get across is that the public only have three minutes to speak.

'We would urge people who do attend to allow the Southwold and Reydon Society, who will also be speaking on behalf of the Southwold Chamber of Trade, to deliver a focused response. However, numbers are important.

'Our council has the chance to either respond to the wish of their local community and act on planning grounds, or they can give into the bullying tactics – that choice is theirs.'

A spokesman from Costa Coffee said: 'This former Fanny & Franks' shop is currently vacant. During these difficult economic times, we believe most people would rather see the disused building turned into a thriving coffee shop, than remain empty.

'The new store would not only provide a social meeting place but will create a number of new jobs at a time when many high street shops are closing their doors.'

Elsewhere in England, campaigns have been launched to prevent Costa Coffee opening a branch in Bristol and Cambridgeshire.

?The change-of-use application by Costa Coffee for 70, High Street, Southwold, will be heard in public at the next meeting of Waveney's development control committee at 6pm on Tuesday, June 19, at Lowestoft Town Hall.

To hear a full audio interview with Andrew Simms of the New Economics Foundation click on the link above

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