By BEN WOODS
Tuesday, August 14, 2012
More than 100 people were ordered to leave a council meeting tonight after they reduced a councillor to tears when a national chain was given the green light to open a coffee shop in Southwold.
A packed public gallery at Lowestoft Town Hall rounded on councillors when a decision was made to give Costa Coffee planning permission to open at 70 High Street.
It came after a Waveney District Council development control committee was divided over a proposal to refuse the application, with six councillors voting against and six voting in favour, while councillor Patricia Flegg chose to abstain.
The ruling decision on the proposal was left in the hands of committee chairman councillor John Groom, who ruled that Costa Coffee should not be stopped from opening in the town.
But disorder quickly ensued when a new proposal to approve the plans was pushed through after Mrs Flegg changed her mind and voted in favour of the coffee shop opening – with seven councillors in favour and six against.
The meeting was quickly adjourned while the public gallery was cleared as people rose from their seats and shouted at councillors – including Mrs Flegg who left the room in tears.
Campaigners vowed to fight the council’s decision, which comes less than two months after they refused the same application on the grounds that it could harm the town’s “unique character”.
Speaking after the meeting (on Tuesday August 14) Michael Ladd, the mayor of Southwold, said: “We are all very disappointed that this has been approved – especially after the initial recommendation two months ago was refused. But Southwold will survive.”
At the beginning of the meeting, it was announced that there were 614 letters of objection and seven letters of support for the plans, which give Costa Coffee permission to serve food and drink at 70 High Street.
But the district council’s planning team advised councillors there were no planning grounds to refuse the application.
The deputy mayor of Southwold, John Windell; chairman of Southwold Chamber of Trade Guy Mitchell; and chairman of the Southwold and Reydon Society Michael Rowan-Robinson, all spoke on the night – urging councillors to protect Southwold’s “vitality and viability” by refusing the application.
Objecting to the plans, councillor Peter Coghill said “Southwold is the jewel in Waveney’s crown and attracts people with its unique character represented by independent retailers.
“This could easily be destroyed.”
But in support of the national chain, councillor Ian Graham said: “The council would not have a leg to stand on if this went to appeal.”