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MP calls on coffee giant to 'stay away'

By Western Morning News  |  Posted: August 23, 2012

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A Conservative MP has pleaded with a coffee giant to reconsider opening in a Westcountry town, amid fears it will ruin its "unique" identity.

MP Sarah Wollaston has called on Costa Coffee to ditch plans to open a large store in her Totnes constituency in South Devon, after more than 5,000 people signed a petition.

She said: "Costa should take that strength of opinion into account. Just because they can open here doesn't mean they should. It does risk changing the character of the town."

A spokesman for Costa insisted the new shop would "complement" the existing offering, and should not be seen as a threat.

But Dr Wollaston said local people were proud of the high number of independent businesses, and feared for Totnes becoming a "clone town".

The MP revealed she was an occasional Costa customer, but said: "I won't visit them if they impose themselves on a town where people have asked them to consider the impact and to stay away."

The comments come as retail queen Mary Portas made her own appeal, after campaigners asked her to get involved. She took to Twitter to tell Costa: "Please listen to the people of Totnes. They don't want you. They have 41 independent coffee shops already."

But Totnes Mayor Pruw Boswell said there was not a "cat in hell's" chance that Costa would heed the plea.

She said: "Costa has 1,400 outlets already, and I think they are determined to have a coffee shop in every small town and village in the country. Other small communities should be aware that they could be next."

Earlier this month, South Hams District Council gave permission for the shop to be used as a cafe, effectively giving Costa the green light. The decision came despite a protest march through the town ahead of the meeting.

Campaigners had pointed to the potential damage to businesses, but yesterday, a spokesman for the authority said its hands were tied by planning regulations, and it was unable to discriminate against particular applicants.

Holly Tiffen, of the NotoCosta campaign, said the campaigners were "frustrated" at the outcome, but said the fight was ongoing. She said: "I can't understand why Costa would want to come to a community which has told them they're not wanted. It's purely corporate greed. They don't care about the communities they are coming to, and the impact they will have."

South Hams District Councillor Robert Vint, who represents Totnes for the Green Party, accused Costa of "aggressive" tactics after they sent a list of appeals they had successfully overturned alongside their application.

He said: "What's the point in the Government bringing in a Localism Act if it doesn't give communities the power to have a say about what goes on in their area?"

Yesterday, a spokesman for Costa Coffee said the scale of objection was "disappointing", but insisted there was "no hidden agenda".

"We are very much aware that Totnes has a strong reputation for supporting independent retailers and we appreciate that this is a highly emotive issue for some people. We honestly do not think that anyone should see Costa as a threat. Our offering is very different to local independent coffee shops and we believe that people can and will use both, depending on their needs, adding new vibrancy by complementing the local offering."

The spokesman insisted Costa would support local community groups and good causes, as well as providing a social meeting place.

"We would like to stress that when we secure planning permission we strenuously follow the planning process, working closely with local authorities. If our stores are franchised it's a local business person who invests their own money into the store – just like independent cafe owners do. If it is a company-owned store, our managers treat the Costa as if it were their own, taking a great deal of pride in what they do."

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  • Wyrdsister1  |  August 23 2012, 12:30PM

    Their attitude is appalling. Insisting they will 'complement' Totnes implies Totnes people don't know what's good for their own community. Complement - "something that completes or makes perfect" Has ANYONE ever wandered up Fore St thinking "Totnes is nice, but a Costa outlet would just make it perfect."? Didn't think so.

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