Southwold Costa Coffee campaign dealt blow

A CAMPAIGN to stop a national chain opening a coffee shop in Southwold was dealt a major blow this week after it emerged that planning officers were recommending support for the proposal.

More than 80 people have objected to plans by Costa Coffee to open a new branch at 70, High Street – formerly Fanny & Franks' clothes shop – amid concerns that it could harm the town's character.

Southwold Town Council and other local organisations have also opposed the application for a 'change of use', which would allow Costa Coffee to sell food and drink at the property in the High Street.

But this week it emerged that Waveney District Council's planning team would be recommending approval for the proposal – saying it would not detrimentally affect the 'vitality and viability' of the town centre.

Meanwhile, Costa Coffee has defended its plans, claiming a new caf� would create jobs, prevent a shop remaining empty during the tough economic climate and increase footfall for surrounding businesses.

The secretary of the Southwold and Reydon Society, John Perkins, said: 'I'm not surprised by the Waveney planning officers' recommendation because these people are faced with near-intimidation at times.

'They realise that if they get a decision wrong and someone appeals, then the council may have to pay out a lot of money.

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'That is not to say we will stop fighting. The planners maybe experienced but that doesn't mean we have to agree with them.'

The application will be discussed at a meeting of Waveney's development control committee on Tuesday, June 19 – and campaigners hope people will turn up to show the strength of feeling in Southwold.

Councillors will be told that 83 people have objected to Costa Coffee's plans and only two have expressed support for it.

Mr Perkins added: 'We expect a big turn-out at the meeting. I have been amazed by the number of people who want to go. It shows the strength of feeling about this.

'If this application goes through, it will be a green light to national chains and Southwold's High Street will become like any other – that is not what the town is about.'

At a meeting last month, Southwold Town Council agreed to fight the proposal by Costa Coffee after agreeing it could pose a potential threat to the character of the High Street and affect the 20 other caf�s and restaurants in the town. But some members questioned whether the planning objection was 'water-tight' enough to be backed by Waveney, which will make the final decision.

The move came after the Southwold and Reydon Society and the Southwold Chamber of Trade had launched a joint campaign against the proposal.

Costa Coffee defended its position, saying it would benefit Southwold. A company spokesman said: 'This former Fanny & Franks' shop is currently vacant. During these difficult economic times, we believe most people would rather see the disused building turned into a thriving coffee shop, than remain empty. The new store would not only provide a social meeting place but will create a number of new jobs at a time when many high street shops are closing their doors.

'A Costa store typically employs between six to 12 people. In our experience the opening of a Costa coffee shop often leads to increased footfall to areas – therefore bringing substantial benefits to surrounding businesses.

'Costa regularly complements independent retailers and serves to offer a wider range of choice and experience which we believe will be the case in Southwold, where there is already evidence of independent and branded chains operating successfully in the area.

'We very much look forward to welcoming Coffee Lovers to the store should approval be granted from the council.'

? The change of use application by Costa Coffee for 70, High Street, Southwold will be heard in public at the next meeting of Waveney's development control committee at 6pm on Tuesday, June 19, at Lowestoft Town Hall.

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