Southwold: Campaigners encouraged by Costa Coffee’s decision to pull out of similar town

CAMPAIGNERS fighting to stop a national chain from opening a coffee shop in their high street say they are heartened by the company’s decision to withdraw from a similar town.

Costa Coffee managing director Chris Rogers announced earlier this week that - following fierce opposition - they would be scrapping plans for Totnes in Devonshire. Campaigners are now hoping the company mirrors this in Southwold and ends its interest in opening up at 70 High Street, which was narrowly given permission by Waveney District Council in August.

John Perkins, secretary of the Southwold and Reydon Society, said they were heartened by the Totnes decision and revealed they had written to Mr Rogers in a bid to achieve a similar result. “It is very encouraging,” he said. “We are hoping for a change of heart. It’s not too late - the shop fitting work hasn’t been started so there’s time to reconsider.” In the letter to Mr Rogers the Society’s chairman, professor Michael Rowan-Robinson, writes: “Not only was your application opposed by the Southwold Town Council, the Southwold and Reydon Society, and the Southwold Chamber of Commerce, but also by 640 individuals who wrote personal letters to Waveney District Council. Considering there are fewer than 1,000 permanent residents in Southwold, this gives you some idea of the strength of feeling.

“There are parallels between Totnes and Southwold. Both already have a large number of locally owned coffee outlets and these help give the towns their distinctive character. This in turn attracts visitors who want to enjoy something different from their own high streets.

“Given your re-think on Totnes we would ask you to look again at Southwold.”

Guy Mitchell, chairman of Southwold Chamber of Commerce, also urged Costa to change its mind. “The situation in Southwold is no different,” he said. “Like Totnes, Southwold is a town with a long and proud history of independent retailers. Time and time again, members of the business community hear from their customers, both locals and tourists, that Southwold is at risk of losing its individuality and therefore its appeal. There is a clear indication from many that they will boycott the Costa brand as a result of this unwelcome arrival.”

Commenting on the Totnes decision, Mr Rogers said: “Our customers are our lifeblood and therefore, in all communities in which we operate, we seek to be a force for good, contributing to growth, creating jobs and supporting our local community. In making this decision Costa has recognised the strength of feeling in Totnes against national brands and taken into account the specific circumstances. Totnes is a town with a long and proud history of independent retailers. It has one of the lowest percentage of branded stores of any town of its size in the UK, very few empty shop fronts, as well as a very high proportion of places selling coffee.”