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Southwold: Anger over decision to give Costa the green light

PUBLISHED: 10:09 16 August 2012

The shop that will be ttransformed into a Costa

The shop that will be ttransformed into a Costa

© Archant 2012

ANGER spilled onto the streets of Southwold after a national coffee chain was allowed to open in the town centre.

Business owners and townsfolk expressed frustration at the approval of Costa Coffee’s application to open a branch at 70 High Street.

It followed a heated meeting at Lowestoft Town Hall on Tuesday, when the split decision of a Waveney’s development control committee gave the casting vote to chairman, John Groom, who ruled that Costa should not be stopped from opening in the town.

While campaigners vowed to fight the decision - which came less than two months after the council refused the original application - others admitted resignation at the impending arrival of the branch, at the former Fanny & Frank clothing shop.

Tilly’s of Southwold tea room stands almost directly opposite the site, where building work is already under way. Christine Webb, owner of Tilly’s, said: “We’re all very disappointed.

“I’m not particularly ‘anti-Costa’ but we like our independence and the town is already well-served by similar outlets. In 20 years people will still be questioning why this was allowed to happen.

“However, customers have a right to choose and I just hope Costa try to add something to the town and become part of the community.”

The application received hundreds of objections, with more than 300 sent by letter and e-mail in the three weeks after the company announced a second bid to move in.

But Costa has long maintained the increased competition caused by opening a new branch was not a planning issue, and claimed an outlet would complement independent retailers and employ local people.

Guy Mitchell, chairman of Southwold and District Chamber of Trade, added: “I struggle to understand why, when the committee rejected the same application, that this time it was unable to find grounds to turn it down. Nothing had changed. They lacked the strength to stand up against the threat of an appeal.”

Emma Slater, manager at Chapmans newsagents, said: “A lot of people are disappointed, but some think it’s good that an empty shop is being filled in the high street, and that local people will hopefully be getting jobs.

“A few of the younger people are glad to be getting somewhere to sit and socialise.”

Planners at Waveney District Council, in a report recommending the application’s approval, said: “It is not the role of the planning department to restrict competition or to protect existing commercial uses.

“Therefore it is considered that this proposal would not have a detrimental impact on the vitality and viability of the town centre.”

Eliza Allerton, 78, is a regular customer at Squier’s of Southwold tea rooms, in the High Street. Reacting to the decision by Waveney’s development control committee to approve Costa Coffee’s application, she said: “It’s dreadful. It will alter the character of the town and could be very harmful to shops like this one. “We don’t need it, and I hope it will be boycotted by locals and hopefully visitors, if they’re not put off coming.

“The opinions of the public have just been ignored. We’re just trying to protect our little shops and tea rooms.

“I’m not surprised it went through. It would have gone to an appeal anyway.”

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