Protest fails to stop town go-ahead for coffee chain's plan to open shop
Demonstrators fighting a "clone" coffee shop's plans to open in a town known for independent retailers are "hugely disappointed" that they lost a council vote.
More than 5,700 people signed a petition opposing chain cafes after Costa Coffee launched an "aggressive" bid to open in Totnes, South Devon.
Yesterday, more than 100 members of NotoCosta marched through Totnes town centre on South Hams District Council's headquarters, to plead with planning authorities to reject the change of use of the building on Fore Street from a shop to a cafe.
But the vote went against them, despite ward councillors who supported their campaign arguing that the council should refuse and put the new Localism Act to the test, and see if it really allows communities to have more say in developments in their area.
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Speaking after the decision, Frances Northrop, of NotoCosta, said: "We are hugely disappointed that the voices of more than 5,500 people who signed our petition, the views of the town council who recommended that Costa's application be refused and the needs of the existing businesses in the town represent nothing."
She accused Costa of "arrogant disregard" for local communities.
Yesterday, councillors were told they had to make their decision based on planning grounds, and not on "emotional" arguments or any aversion to the applicant.
Ward members argued that the loss of a large shop to "yet another" cafe in the centre would damage the vitality of the area and lead to businesses closing.
Councillors condemned the "aggressive" nature of Costa's application, after the company supplied a list of all the appeals it had won.
Councillor Julian Brazil urged his colleagues to refuse and let Costa appeal. He said: "We know the local community doesn't want it. Let's see what happens with this brave new world of planning, which is meant to be all about local people deciding. Let's test it."
But fellow councillor Basil Cane said the eight full-time and eight part-time jobs would be welcomed. "We wouldn't be doing our job if we didn't recommend this for approval," he said. "In 12 months or two years, the people of Totnes will be saying 'what a wonderful thing we have a Costa here'."
Paul Williams, who represented Costa at the meeting, said evidence showed the chain actually attracted more people to the town. He insisted the "high-quality" cafe would complement the shopping area and would "endeavour to be part of the community". He said: "To me, this all points to the fact that this application would not undermine the character of the shopping area – rather the opposite. It will complement it."
But Jill Tomalin, who addressed the meeting on behalf of the community, said: "To cite statistics and national precedents, as Costa have done, is to miss the point. It invites mediocrity and leads to an outmoded model of a high street. Our current wellbeing relies on offering something different."
The strength of feeling in the town was clear during the protest, as cars beeped and shop owners came to their doors to cheer passing protesters on their way.
Protesters pointed to recent demonstrations by farmers who were calling on Costa and others to pay fairer milk prices.
Among the crowd was Richard Taylor, who runs Beanbug, a 'coffee trike' which sources ingredients ethically. He said: "Costa will do nothing for the town, the economy or local people. They won't support the local supply chain. They don't care where they get their milk or their coffee from. Where they go, Starbucks and others follow. They may as well just open a McDonald's."