Minority — not majority — against Costa Coffee moving into Totnes
THE campaign to stop the Costa coffee shop moving into Totnes was only supported by a minority despite claims the whole town was against the chain, it has been revealed.
Only 12 per cent of local residents supported the NoToCosta campaign, despite claims from the local MP, the mayor, the town council and Transition Town Totnes that the whole town did not want Costa.
The findings come as the environmental group which stopped Costa has been accused of double standards for accepting corporate sponsorship of almost £3,000 from multi-national phone company Vodafone.
The NoToCosta petition has been analysed by community radio Totnes FM, which says two thirds of the signatories were from outside Totnes.
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David Parsley, from Totnes FM, who conducted the analysis, said it had taken four weeks of pressure on Transition Town Totnes and the district council to obtain the document for scrutiny.
He said: "We couldn't take the document away and we had to spend two days counting signatures and see where people came from at the district council's offices.
"We decided to have a look at the petition when questions started being asked about the true number of people opposed to Costa coming into town."
Mr Parsley who himself signed the petition, added: "I was really surprised that it was so low.
"It shows the danger of petitions which only ask for one point of view.
"There was no vote in Totnes asking people if they wanted Costa or not."
Mr Parsley's findings showed fewer than one in eight local residents signed the TTT petition.
Of the 22,869 people who live in Totnes and the surrounding villages, only 2,895 people — 12 per cent — backed the campaign, which did not mention Costa directly but asked local people if they supported an independent high street and would boycott any coffee chain that opened in the town.
Of the 8,336 people who lived within the Totnes town borders, less than one in four — 24 per cent — signed the petition.
A total of 5,506 people signed the petition with almost two-thirds — 63 per cent — of signatures from people not living in the town.
There were signatories from as far afield as Edinburgh, Glasgow, Kent, Leeds, London, Manchester, Norfolk, and Surrey, Australia, Canada, France, Germany, Italy and even Morocco.
Mr Parsley said that despite only 12 per cent of local people signing the petition, the document was used by campaigners to justify their fight against Costa.
The coffee chain received planning consent from South Hams District Council for a change of use at the former Greenlife store on the High Street at the beginning of August.
TheNoToCosta campaign gathered pace, especially online, until Costa decided to pull out last month.
Prominent Liberal Democrat figure and former South Hams district councillor Anne Ward said: "What annoyed me was the way the whole thing was hijacked by TTT and the way the Town Council and MP just uncritically adopted their position.
"Quite clearly there was no majority of local people against Costa but that's what we were told. There's something unsavoury about how we were duped."
But Frances Northrop, manager of TTT, said the petition was never intended to be a ballot.
"The fact that 24 per cent of people in Totnes were motivated to sign a petition shows just how strongly people felt. Certainly they cared a lot more about it than the PCC elections."
An audit of the transition town charity's accounts has revealed it received £2,750 from Vodafone in 2011.
Mrs Northrop said: "The money from Vodaphone was a grant for a specific project through their World of Difference programme, which sponsors individuals.
"It was given independently to an enthusiastic supporter of TTT who didn't actually tell TTT she had applied until she had notification that the grant had been approved. By this time it seemed churlish to refuse the money."
Totnes mayor Pruw Boswell defended her position, saying: "I'm always truthful. I'm not going to resign. I have no reasons to do so. I have done nothing to be ashamed of."
She added: "I've been distressed by this when I haven't had the chance to defend myself."