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...but are town residents really happy with the move?

By Herald Express  |  Posted: November 01, 2012

  • DISAPPOINTED: Butcher Christopher McCabe

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THERE were no champagne corks popping in Totnes on a wet Monday morning.

The town has won a historic victory over plans for a Costa Coffee in Fore Street despite South Hams District Council granting planning permission to coffee shop brand owners Whitbread.

I wasn't expecting a conga line — but I was expecting people to be really pleased with the unprecedented U-turn.

But for every person or business owner who would speak to me on the record agreeing with the decision for Costa not to come, there were two who didn't agree but didn't want to go public for fear of people boycotting their business.

Surprisingly for such a massive victory, there was an overwhelming feeling among people I spoke to that the Costa U-turn has mixed implications at best.

Some key businesses close to the shop, which has been empty for the past two years, are worried about it now remaining an eye sore.

Some felt that a vocal minority possibly weren't representative of what the majority of Totnes people felt — eager to see the unit filled.

They now fear the decision will have wider implications, and that other big stores will think twice about investing in the town for fear of being driven out.

One said that if the store was actually that unpopular, market economics would mean it would simply fail on its on merits.

Butcher Chris McCabe's business would have been very close to the new coffee shop.

"It needs someone with deep pockets to go in there," he said.

"You are looking at something like £70,000 a year before you even employ anyone. The reality is, it needs to be someone big. I've nothing against Costa. I wouldn't like a Tesco Metro or something similar. At the end of the day I'm more disappointed that the shop will now remain empty."

The U-turn was based on a very strong and sometimes anonymous social media campaign.

A protest march put a public face on it, as did a petition against the plans.

What's puzzling is that Totnes does have big brands and lots of them.

To speak to people I had parked my car at Morrisons which dominates the main family weekly shop.

Totnes has high street brands, including Boots, Superdrug, WH Smiths, Edinburgh Woollen Mill and Fatface, but with Costa, for some reason, it was different.

Mark Willetts, proprietor of jewellers H E Phillips, said: "I would have liked to have seen the store filled. It's not good having empty shops, especially as one as visible as that. It brings the town down."

WildFig Deli's Martyn Davies said he had mixed feeling about the decision.

He said: "I used to be an engineer and would travel the country. I used Costa all the time and would use their wi-fi. Their coffee is a good product.

"I suppose we would have lost some business from it which wouldn't have been ideal. But I think we have different customers. People in Totnes are loyal to their local stores. They spend within their community. What Costa would have done was fill an empty shop with a popular brand. People getting off a coach would have seen it and seen something familiar."

Enjoying a coffee outside the Seven Stars, Totnes resident John Wells was how I had anticipated the reaction was going to be.

He was pleased with the decision, not just because of the 'uniqueness' of Totnes but because of the overwhelming reaction against the plans.

He said: "I've been watching it with great interest on Twitter.

"I didn't agree with the council decision. You had some councillors voting on a decision who don't actually live near the town.

"You had a very strong petition where the town said it didn't want the store. I don't see how they could then simply vote against that."

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  • sl4bber  |  November 01 2012, 8:54PM

    One empty shop isn't so bad, if Costa had come to Totnes the outcome could have been four or five empty shops. The traders are once again fretting about who will occupy the vacant shop - and will it affect their turnover.

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  • Bleach  |  November 01 2012, 4:40PM

    "You had some councillors voting on a decision who don't actually live near the town". And yet they were still council lots, legitimately voted into office through the democratic process. Totnes needs to stop fighting amongst itself. I have never, in my entire life seen so much vitriol hurled at neighbours by neighbours in a town. It was desperately, desperately saddening.

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  • T0tnesian  |  November 01 2012, 9:21AM

    Those who worry about an empty eyesore in the town centre can blame the building's current owner: http://tinyurl.com/cj3y8q8

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