A very British insurrection: Totnes residents win battle to keep Costa out amid 'clone town' fears

 

The Battle of Totnes is over and the losing side is a multi-national coffee chain.

Costa Coffee has abandoned a campaign to open a café in the determinedly bohemian south Devon market town, despite winning planning permission for a 70-seat store at the foot of its hilly high street.

Its managing director, Chris Rogers, hauled up the white flag today, after visiting the West Country for a meeting with the town's rebellious MP, traders and townsfolk.

Perhaps in retrospect Costa, which has been spreading across the country and now has 1,400 outlets, picked the wrong town.

Mr Rogers admitted as much in his statement ceasing hostilities, saying: "Costa has recognised the strength of feeling in Totnes against national brands and taken into account the specific circumstances of Totnes."

Ever since Costa's plans to take over a vacant health food shop became known in May, indignant residents ran a vigorous 'No to Costa' campaign and gathered a 5,500-signature petition.

Costa insisted its store at 11 Fore Street - scheduled to open from dawn to dusk, 6.30am to 8pm - would "add new vibrancy by complementing the local offering" as well as create 16 full and part-time jobs.

With double the number of outlets of Starbucks, Costa is undisputed king of the £5bn-a-year British coffee market - and usually triumphs against the growing number of protesters who object to its expansion.

In what campaigners saw as a warning to South Hams District Council, its planning application detailed its successful appeals against residents' objections in other towns across the UK.

However campaigners fearful that Costa's arrival would start to turn Totnes into a clone town with identikit high street chains put up a strong fight.

Totnes has four chain shores - Superdrug, WH Smiths, Peacocks and M&Co - but its narrow High Street is packed with independent traders, including 32 non-chain cafes.

Frances Northrop, manager of Transition Town Totnes, a movement aimed at weaning us off our dependence on oil, told the Independent in August: "Totnes has got lots of heart and soul, which is down to the character of the buildings, the businesses and the people.

"Our fear is not just coffee shops, but Tesco Metro will come in - they follow each other."

On 1 August, when the planning committee of South Hams District Council met 140 placard-wielding protesters marched through the town.

Despite receiving only 9 letters of support for the application, and 260 letters of objection, planning officers recommended the return of an empty unit to use  and councillors voted by 17 to 6 in Costa' flavour. Four of the councillors opposing Costa represented Totnes and the surrounding area.

The battle for the soul of a medieval town known for its abundance of writers, therapists and herbalists was not over. With the support of their Conservative MP, Sarah Wollaston, townsfolk persuaded Mr Rogers to visit in late August.

Announcing his decision today, Mr Rogers said: "Totnes is a town with a long and proud history of independent retailers with one of the lowest percentages of branded stores of any town of its size in the UK, very few empty shop fronts, as well as a very high proportion of places selling coffee."

In a statement posted on the Notocosta.co.uk website, campaigners said: "We are impressed Costa has taken the time to understand our town, its economy and the 5,700 people who signed the petition asking Costa to reconsider. This is a major milestone for local communities and is a day when the value of localism comes into its own, albeit belatedly..."

Dr Wollaston - making an oblique reference to the tax position of Costa' rival Starbucks - praised Costa, adding:

"I recognise that this is a successful British business playing fair by paying its full share of tax, sourcing much of its milk from Devon and engaging too on the important issue of fairness to farmers."

She just felt that Totnes was not quite right for multi-national soy lattes.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Project Implementation Executive

£18000 - £23000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They work with major vehicle ma...

Recruitment Genius: Chiropractic Assistant

£16500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Chiropractic Assistant is needed in a ...

Recruitment Genius: Digital Account Executive - Midlands

£18000 - £26000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They work with major vehicle ma...

Recruitment Genius: Web Developer

£28000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company provides coaching ...

Day In a Page

NHS struggling to monitor the safety and efficacy of its services outsourced to private providers

Who's monitoring the outsourced NHS services?

A report finds that private firms are not being properly assessed for their quality of care
Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

The Tory MP said he did not want to stand again unless his party's manifesto ruled out a third runway. But he's doing so. Watch this space
How do Greek voters feel about Syriza's backtracking on its anti-austerity pledge?

How do Greeks feel about Syriza?

Five voters from different backgrounds tell us what they expect from Syriza's charismatic leader Alexis Tsipras
From Iraq to Libya and Syria: The wars that come back to haunt us

The wars that come back to haunt us

David Cameron should not escape blame for his role in conflicts that are still raging, argues Patrick Cockburn
Sam Baker and Lauren Laverne: Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

A new website is trying to declutter the internet to help busy women. Holly Williams meets the founders
Heston Blumenthal to cook up a spice odyssey for British astronaut manning the International Space Station

UK's Major Tum to blast off on a spice odyssey

Nothing but the best for British astronaut as chef Heston Blumenthal cooks up his rations
John Harrison's 'longitude' clock sets new record - 300 years on

‘Longitude’ clock sets new record - 300 years on

Greenwich horologists celebrate as it keeps to within a second of real time over a 100-day test
Fears in the US of being outgunned in the vital propaganda wars by Russia, China - and even Isis - have prompted a rethink on overseas broadcasters

Let the propaganda wars begin - again

'Accurate, objective, comprehensive': that was Voice of America's creed, but now its masters want it to promote US policy, reports Rupert Cornwell
Why Japan's incredible long-distance runners will never win the London Marathon

Japan's incredible long-distance runners

Every year, Japanese long-distance runners post some of the world's fastest times – yet, come next weekend, not a single elite competitor from the country will be at the London Marathon
Why does Tom Drury remain the greatest writer you've never heard of?

Tom Drury: The quiet American

His debut was considered one of the finest novels of the past 50 years, and he is every bit the equal of his contemporaries, Jonathan Franzen, Dave Eggers and David Foster Wallace
You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

Dave Hax's domestic tips are reminiscent of George Orwell's tea routine. The world might need revolution, but we like to sweat the small stuff, says DJ Taylor
Beige is back: The drab car colours of the 1970s are proving popular again

Beige to the future

Flares and flounce are back on catwalks but a revival in ’70s car paintjobs was a stack-heeled step too far – until now
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's dishes highlight the delicate essence of fresh cheeses

Bill Granger cooks with fresh cheeses

More delicate on the palate, milder, fresh cheeses can also be kinder to the waistline
Aston Villa vs Liverpool: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful,' says veteran Shay Given

Shay Given: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful'

The Villa keeper has been overlooked for a long time and has unhappy memories of the national stadium – but he is savouring his chance to play at Wembley
Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own - Michael Calvin

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own