Southwold: Campaigners speak out after developer reveals two more chain stores could move in to town

Southwold High Street

Southwold High Street

CAMPAIGNERS fighting to protect the character a prestigious coastal resort have strongly criticised a developer who plans to bring two more national chains to the town within the year.

The Southwold and Reydon Society said Nick Ekins’ comments proved what they feared all along. The chairman of Gentian Developments, which owns the sites already occupied by WH Smith and Costa Coffee, said a number of chains were keen to move into two of its other properties in High Street and East Street.

Mr Ekins said businesses with poor products and limited opening hours would be “killed” by national chains but “best of breed” independent businesses would always succeed.

Last year there was fierce opposition to Costa’s proposal to open in the former Fanny & Frank clothes shop in High Street, while two independent stores have also recently closed.

“Whether we are building houses or shops there are always NIMBYs who fear change,” Mr Ekins said. “You have to ignore them otherwise nothing will happen in this country.

“We employ local builders and architects and Costa has employed local people. It is mainly old, rich, white people who held it up by six months and delayed employment.”

But John Perkins, secretary of the Southwold and Reydon Society, said: “What this confirms is what we’ve said all along. This company will change the character of the whole High Street. Shops will close and the town centre will look like any other. That’s the reason why we fought so hard against Costa. In our view that was the tipping point, it set a precedent for others to come in. Unfortunately we have been proved right.

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“We accept there are market forces and there will be change. What we have to do is make people aware of what’s happening. Otherwise in a few years time you will find lots of empty shops and chain stores. That’s not what Southwold is about.”

Mr Perkins also questioned Mr Ekins’ claims that those who objected were NIMBYs and “mainly old, rich, white people.”

“It’s completely inaccurate,” he said. “The majority of the population in Southwold is under 60 and they’re not by any means rich. It’s a ridiculous claim. It’s got nothing to do with anything.

“We will be writing a very strong rebuttal. Our petition against Costa shows that there were a great many young people who objected, with lots of visitors from other parts of the UK and abroad.”