Devon community rejects Costa, but they move in anyway

2 August 2012

love coffeeThese days, to stand out from the crowd,  touristy towns and villages are advised to have a unique selling point.  Ecclestone in Lancashire can now boast of being Wiggo’s home town but Whitney in Oxfordshire has absolutely nothing to brag about.

Take the case of chocolate box town of Totnes in Devon. Not glamorous enough to have an actual coastline like it’s near neighbour Paignton*, the townspeople needed to find some other way of distinguishing themselves from any other pretty town in Devon. Totnes is the home of the independent shop, no identikit high street here, just a wonderful and eclectic mix of individual and local shops.

Given this wonderful USP, the latest decision by the Town Council seems a little odd. The latest quirky and independent retailer due to open its doors in Totnes is none other than Whitbred-owned multiple-locationed chain Costa Coffee.

Unsurprisingly, the townspeople are not impressed, and a whole campaign “NoToCosta” and petition, signed by close to 75% of the residents, was launched to try and stop the planning permission being granted. The council ignored such "emotional arguments", and the new Totnes Costa will be open soon.

So why did the Council go against the views of the majority of people living in Totnes? Presumably it is because Costa fits the Totnes Information Centre’s description of its retailers as “friendly and individual, with the focus on quality and customer care.” No? Possibly the councillors believed Costa’s own hired spin doctor who produced ‘evidence’ that the presence of the chain would increase visitors to the town.

Councillor Basil Cane told This is Cornwall that the eight full-time and eight part-time jobs would be welcomed. "We wouldn't be doing our job if we didn't recommend this for approval," he said. "In 12 months or two years, the people of Totnes will be saying 'what a wonderful thing we have a Costa here'."

Community representative Jill Tomalin, refuted the arguments saying: “To cite statistics and national precedents, as Costa have done, is to miss the point. It invites mediocrity and leads to an outmoded model of a high street. Our current wellbeing relies on offering something different." Presumably something other than overpriced designer coffee.

So what do you think? Is Costa  ever really a selling point for a town? Will Totnes’ reputation be sullied by the presence of a  big chain? Will the Town Council have to change their own website town description “Totnes' shops are friendly and individual, as befits a place of such character.” Or are jobs more important than anything else?

*who also have a Costa.

TOPICS:   High Street News

27 comments

  • James D.
    I have an idea, when it opens they could not buy coffee there.
  • Richard
    Applications can only be refused on specific grounds, like amenity, traffic, nuisance, overdevelopment etc. 'We don't like Costa' isn't one of those grounds.
  • Me
    If they don't like it - don't shop there. If its the majority that avoid it - it'll close as an unprofitable outlet. Simple.
  • Eh?
    Exactly, if no one goes there then it will close down in a year and they will be back to where they are. Besides, everyone knows Caffe Nero is where it's at.
  • Fake B.
    It's Eccleston in Lancashire, not Ecclestone.
  • Tweedskin
    Fuck you chumps! I've already booked my train tickets to Totnes, gonna get some Costa goodness.
  • WG
    It's Witney in Oxfordshire, not Whitney. Two place names you got wrong. Oh dear.
  • Mr. P.
    Costa coffee is often better than the independents. The same goes for Southwold where they're having an identical pull-up-the-drawbridge debate. If the independents feel the need to be protected, perhaps they're afraid of good-quality (yes it is) competition.
  • The M.
    I'm currently on a tour of all towns to have a Costa Coffee myself. Doesn't everyone base their vacation plans on the location of over priced beverages sold by bored looking teenagers?
  • The M.
    Now if they had a Gregs I'd be there like a shot.
  • Sawyer
    In addition to the two place names you got wrong, it's also Whitbread, not Whitbred.
  • Kel
    These people are backwards. Costa is amarzin
  • tin
    @Mr. Patel It fuckin isn't. The staff are so unloved they don't give a toss what standard of coffee you end up with. Same as Whitbread's shitty bargain basement pubs.
  • Mr. P.
    @ tin. You obviously live in London where everybody is a miserable wanker anyway. Most of the Costas I've been in have been pretty good (and Caffe Nero is even better).
  • Lou
    The anti costa in Totnes feeling is not about the coffee. It is about a town that is doing well despite the recession trying to hold onto a formula that is keeping people in work and attracting lots of visitors, who spend their money in the town. The guttless councillors that approved the application had sound planning grounds on which to reject it, but chose not to. If people want chain coffee shops and stores, there are a large number of towns and out of town retail parks that supply that. Let's take Paignton for example. It has a Costa...and it has a far higher percentage of boarded up shops, pound shops and charity shops too. That will be Totnes in a few years time if the rot sets in and chain eateries take over the high street.
  • Spencer
    @ Lou.... Can I ask... if a shop sells a quality product that people enjoy, pays it's local tax and rates and keeps local people in work... then what does it matter if it's a chain store? If it pays local rates rates and council taxes (as any shop would) and employs local people (as any shop would) then I can't see what the grounding is for your problem.
  • Chewbacca
    @Spencer It's all about snobbery and elitism.
  • Mr M.
    Eight full time jobs and eight part time is a pretty big number, how the hell did they come up with that?? Presumably its a 9-5 business so in reality it must surely only be about half that number. In my town all the local business owners sit on the council planning or have some sort of influence, hence we can't get a single weatherspoons or the like opening up with some cheap beers!
  • Zleet
    @tin My younger brother worked in a Costa for a while and was sent to an out of town 'coffee college' for training on using the machines, what makes a good coffee and all that shit. Still think it tastes like crap though. He's also worked in a couple of independent coffee places and found them for the most part completely clueless. Wasn't this the basic storyline to an episode of southpark?
  • Yuri G.
    " eight full-time and eight part-time jobs " Perfect, I'm assuming that the town has 16 Eastern Europeans who are out of work?
  • Neil
    Lorraine Pascale is from Witney! Have it!
  • Patrick M.
    It may be Witney in Oxfordshire, but maybe they were referring to Whitney near Houston?
  • Mustapha S.
    As long as there's a KFC or Maccies in town so I can feed my 8 kids with the little benefit money I have left after fags, sky HD and cans of Carling, I'll be there like a shot. Beginning to sound like my sort of town! Is there a tesco express nearby for my kids to hang out?
  • Boon K.
    To sum it up, its a free country. If a business wants to set up, and they meet all the regulations and the requirements, they should. Too much NIMBY-ism in this country, especially now with the power of the internet the voice of a small minority can be multiplied ten-fold. Journalists always love a good David-vs-Goliath story, even if the David might only be one person out of a hundred in the community. That's why we're having a housing crisis (everyone agrees there's a need for more new housing to be built, just not in their neighbourhood). And that's why it was right to grant Costa a licence to open up shop.
  • Teresa
    Firstly - a correction to the article. Totnes town councillors were AGAINST granting Costa planning permission. However the decision rested with South Hams District councillors. All the SH district councillors who live in Totnes and understand its ethos voted against Costa. All the SH district councillors who don't live in Totnes couldn't understand what the fuss was about and voted in favour of the chain. Chain companies such as Costa don;t just destroy the personality and attraction of great places such as Totnes. Research from the New Economics Foundation shows that they undermine and destroy local economies, and in particular locally-owned shops that use locally-sourced products. Totnes coffee shops use locally-sourced food, cakes, milk etc. Furthermore, profits go back to head office and are not spent by people who live locally, thus further undermining local businesses and farmers. NEF shows that chain stores typically result in a net loss of money spent in a town, and a net reduction of jobs. Totnes' economy is thriving where others are failing precisely because of the strength of its local economy. It is a brilliant example of the future of economics. Costa and other chain stores represent the kind of economic model our country should be moving away from, not towards.
  • Tom
    @Boon Koh Journalists always love a good David-vs-Goliath story, even if the David might only be one person out of a hundred in the community. Isn't that the definition of david vs goliath.
  • james d.
    @teresa protectionism will never be the future of economics which is what you are advocating. Towns have to trade with each other, if they only traded internally they would all fail. Same goes for trading countries.

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