Southwold: Community hits back at ‘NIMBY’ jibe

Southwold High Street

Southwold High Street

The Southwold community has hit back at a property developer who branded high street campaigners NIMBYs for opposing the opening of chain stores in the town.

Gentian Developments chairman Nick Ekins dismissed people who objected to national firms coming to the town as “NIMBYs who fear change” – describing those who had opposed Costa Coffee’s planning application as “mainly old, rich, white people”.

Mr Ekins made the comments in last week’s Journal, prompting a flood of angry letters.

Gentian Developments owns the sites occupied by WH Smith and Costa Coffee and has revealed plans to bring two more national chains to its properties in High Street and East Street within the year.

The latest development comes after the closure this year of independent businesses Tilly’s tearoom and Roses’s Fruit Fare.

High Steward of Southwold Graham Denny said he was appalled by Mr Ekins’ comments, as were many Southwold residents.

Mr Denny, who owns Buckenham Galleries and Buckenham Coffee House in High Street, said: “Mr Ekins displays an arrogance which was very evident in the way that his company deployed their tactics when fighting objections to Costa Coffee.

Most Read

“I believe that Mr Ekins and his company are totally missing the point. Southwold has its own unique character and a High Street augmenting this which contains independently-run retailers – and together this produces the premium which is bigger than its population. It was not the arrival of Costa Coffee itself but the fact that another premises was falling into the hands of a national chain that the real objection was about.”

Southwold has always prided itself on its high proportion of independent shops, restaurants and cafes, which community and business leaders say makes the town more attractive to visitors.

Last year, the town council and more than 600 people objected to Costa’s proposal to open a branch in High Street amid concerns it could harm the town’s unique character.

Objectors claim the high rents charged by Gentian drive up prices elsewhere in the town, making business properties unaffordable for most independent traders.

Mayor of Southwold Michael Ladd said Mr Ekins’ comments were unfortunate and the council had agreed not to rise to them by issuing a formal response.

He said it was incorrect to assume everyone in Southwold was a millionaire and added: “A lot of people feel quite offended by it. I think it is a completely inappropriate and inaccurate comment to make. He obviously doesn’t know the town.”

Speaking to The Journal last week, Mr Ekins said big retailers normally targeted larger populations but Southwold was “punching above its weight” and was “an attractive town that has a premium bigger than its population.”

He said he had been surprised at the opposition to Costa Coffee, which he said had held up the development by six months.

Mr Denny added: “Very few of the residents are NIMBYs who fear change. Southwold has embraced change throughout its history and will continue to do so. We wish to preserve our town’s identity and individuality which will be lost along with the ‘premium’.”

Chairman of the Southwold and Reydon Society Michael Rowan-Robinson criticised Gentian’s business model, which he said was “purely about making a quick buck”. He said the objectors to Costa Coffee came from a wide range of ages and backgrounds.

He added: “Local residents and visitors were entitled to express their views to Waveney and do not deserve to be abused by entrepreneurs with no apparent interest in the local community.”

Lyn Knights, who owns clothing shop Denny of Southwold, said she was concerned about the loss of independent businesses in the town.

“It is alarming to see the rate that new chain stores are coming in to the town” she said. “In the past we have been considered one of the most unique shopping destinations and towns.

“Everybody is so individual in the town and everybody tries so hard, be it the butcher selling beautiful meat or the bread shop selling specialist breads.”

She said the business started in 1851 and had been in her family for five generations.

She added: “The town has changed so much and it is such a shame. We don’t want to be like every other town but the chain stores are all creeping in. It has been so special for all these years and such a beautiful place to be I find it sad.”

Become a Supporter

This newspaper has been a central part of community life for many years. Our industry faces testing times, which is why we're asking for your support. Every contribution will help us continue to produce local journalism that makes a measurable difference to our community.

Become a Supporter