Southwold Costa Coffee victory for campaigners

CAMPAIGNERS in Southwold hailed a victory for people power this week after controversial plans for a new coffee shop were rejected amid fierce opposition in the town.

In dramatic scenes at Lowestoft Town Hall, proposals by the national chain Costa Coffee to open a new caf� in High Street were turned down by Waveney district councillors on Tuesday evening.

As the planning application was voted out by Waveney's development control committee, there were cheers and applause from Southwold residents and traders who had packed into the public gallery.

The campaigners were jubilant, saying the decision vindicated their efforts to fighting to safeguard the special character of Southwold town centre and stop it from being taken over by national chains.

But there were warnings that the battle was far from over as Costa Coffee considered a possible appeal.

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After the meeting, John Perkins, secretary of the Southwold and Reydon Society, said the town had given a 'bloody nose' to Costa Coffee. However, he warned against complacency. He said: 'For the moment in Southwold we have won the battle – but the war goes on.

'What we have learned is that we will need to be extra vigilant from now on because of the way that these chains appear to work with property development companies.'

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Such was strength of feeling in Southwold against Costa Coffee's plans for the former Fanny and Franks clothes shop at 70, High Street that 97 objections were sent to Waveney.

Guy Mitchell, chairman of Southwold and District Chamber of Trade and Commerce, said he was 'delighted' planning committee members had sided with the concerned townsfolk.

Mr Mitchell told The Journal: 'We're extremely pleased that the district council listened to the local community.

'We will be keeping a very close eye on the situation.

'In Bristol, for example, Costa have moved in and opened up anyway despite being declined permission. Needless to say if this happened we would continue to fight. There has to be a place for some difference – I don't think towns have to be exactly the same. It's nice to live in a country where there is some variety on our high streets.'

On Tuesday night, one of those instrumental in seeing off Costa Coffee was Southwold mayor and district councillor Michael Ladd who sat on the committee. As well as speaking out against the plans, he proposed the motion that the application – relating to a change of use – be thrown out. This was carried with a vote of seven for and four against – despite the council's own planning officers recommending it for approval.

Mr Ladd suggested the coffee shop plans should be rejected as they went against a key element of Waveney's core strategy of 2009 which says: 'The vitality of all town and district centres will be maintained and enhanced so they continue to act as the focus for a range of activities including retail, leisure and business uses'.

Mr Ladd told the meeting: 'Costa Coffee will have a detrimental impact on the High Street. The other smaller cafes will probably go out of business if there are any other shops in the town centre. 'If this goes ahead it will have a severe detrimental impact on the town centre, I move therefore that this application is refused.

'I reiterate refusing on the grounds it breaches CS10 of the Waveney core strategy.'

Afterwards, he told The Journal: 'At the end of the day we make decisions on planning policy and what's right for the town and community. It's about trying to protect our independent shops and character and history of the town.'

During Tuesday's meeting, councillors were told by planning officials that there were only seven restaurant or caf� businesses in Southwold town centre – making up 12pc of all premises. The UK average was said to be 15-16pc.

However ,John Windell, speaking on behalf of Southwold Town Council, disputed these figures. He said: 'With due respect, the planning officers are wrong. There are 20 outlets in the town centre and one more will have an adverse effect on the existing caf� premises.'

Prof Michael Rowan-Robinson, chairman of the Southwold And Reydon Society, told the meeting: 'As well as speaking on behalf of more than 400 members of the Southwold and Reydon Society, I am also speaking on behalf of the Southwold Town Centre Chamber of Trade and 76 local businesses.

'Quite a few have come here tonight and feelings are running very high. Local people are so incensed by this application. There are 20 outlets which provide hot drinks and snacks in the town centre – that's enough.'

Council planners had recommended that the change of use application be approved as the proposed coffee house it would 'not have a detrimental impact on the vitality and viability of the town centre'.

Defending the application, Ian Graham, councillor for Lowestoft's Harbour ward, told fellow committee members: 'I am wondering whether this was not Costa would we be sitting here? If we decline this application we are saying one more is too many – I don't think there are planning grounds to decline this.'

After the meeting, Mr Ladd was praised by both Mr Mitchell and Mr Windell, who said: 'We are more than delighted. 'Councillor Ladd came to the fore and we would like to thank our district councillor. It sends out a warning, a shot over the bows of larger chain stores coming into Southwold who think they can bully us – they can't.

'We know what our residents want. We can't be bullied – the people have spoken.'

A spokesman for Costa Coffee said: 'We are disappointed the council did not approve plans for the change of use to enable the currently vacant site to become a Costa Coffee shop. We believe having a thriving business, such as Costa, on the High Street would be a positive addition to Southwold and the local community.

'The new branch would have led to increased footfall for the area and ultimately would have created jobs for local people. We are waiting for the council to issue the decision notice and the specific reasons for refusal, and on receipt of this, we will consider in detail whether to appeal the council's decision.'

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THE decision to reject plans for a new Costa Coffee outlet in Southwold should help inspire other towns fighting the big national chains, a campaigner said this week.

John Perkins, secretary of the Southwold and Reydon Society, said he was delighted at the outcome of Tuesday's meeting of Waveney's development control committee – and hoped it would give heart to other groups opposing similar applications.

Mr Perkins said: 'It is not often a small Suffolk town takes on a high street giant and wins.

'As for the future, Costa Coffee, which is owned by the giant Whitbread company, may well appeal and the campaign will be re-ignited. But for the time being it has given some hope to other towns fighting an invasion by national chains.'

Mr Perkins said he still thought it 'amazing' that Waveney District Council planning officers had recommended the coffee shop be approved.

He also dismissed criticism that the people of Southwold objected to Costa Coffee as they did not want working class people having a decent cup of coffee, as one national newspaper had suggested.

Mr Perkins said: 'This was complete nonsense of course. What residents were concerned about was Costa Coffee's plan for a new 50-seater cafe that would threaten the viability of other businesses in the town.

'There were already 20 coffee outlets in and around Southwold's short High Street – many of them struggling to keep going especially in winter. If Costa Coffee opened up it was feared some casualties were inevitable and this would mean job losses. '

Meanwhile, Tuesday's decision has also been welcomed in the South Devon town of Totnes by an organisation which is also fighting plans for a new Costa Coffee outlet.

Transition Town Totnes – an organisation supporting independent enterprise in the town, which is similar to Southwold – says it will use Tuesday's planning decision to help it in its own battle.

The group plans to mention Southwold's success when it speaks against a Costa Coffee application at a meeting of South Hams District Council.

Frances Traynor, is manager of Transition Town Totnes which had also offered support to Southwold ahead of this week's crunch meeting. She said: 'Well done to Southwold.

'We will definitely mention it when goes before South Hams District Council.

We will use the same argument about the vitality of town centres – it is all about the community and how it works.'

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