Totnes says no to Costa, local council says yes

Costa Welcome to Clone Town

Costa Welcome to Clone Town

Totnes says no to Costa

Totnes says no to Costa

Totnes should not let Costa piss in their coffee pot. — Jason E Cooper

I’m an extremely cross mayor and very disappointed and upset. We’re desperately striving here to try and keep the town as unique as we possibly can. — Mayor Pru Boswell

Costa should recognise the damage they do to their own brand as well by imposing where they’re not welcome. — Sarah Wollaston MP

Fine Arabica coffee, however knowledgeably and ethically sourced, has a habit of shedding its winning qualities when made into an amaretto milkshake by casual staff earning little more than the minimum wage. — Joanna Blythman

David Cameron made the right noises when he said local people should make local decisions. He made a fatal mistake when he assumed local councils act in the best interest of local people.

Aldershot and Farnborough are centres of deprivation in an otherwise affluent south-east. Housing benefit claims are double that of surrounding areas. The local council known locally as the Rotten Borough of Rushmoor rather than helping to regenerate, to put money into the pocket of local people, to retain and recycle money in the local economy, has done everything it possibly can to trash the local economy.

Farnborough had half its town centre destroyed to make way for a Sainsbury’s superstore (this in an area saturated with superstores), local independent family run businesses saw their business destroyed (many of who had been in the town for 30 or more years), a small housing estate of social housing was destroyed to make way for a car park for the superstore. The town is now a ghost town.

A lovely little family deli near me was destroyed by the council, worthless jobsworths conducting a vicious vendetta against the shop to force its closure.

Aldershot is a Victorian town. Having learnt nothing from the destruction of Farnborough, an eyesore, a blot on the landscape is being erected on the edge of the town centre. It obstructs the skyline, it is completely out of character with the town centre. This new development will relocate the centre of retail gravity away from the town centre and destroy what little is left. Were it not for the many ethnic shops, Aldershot would be dead.

Aldershot used to have a Victorian Arcade. Possible only one of three in the country. It was destroyed. In its place a plastic replica. The units sat empty, boarded-up shop fronts with pictures of the butcher, the baker, the candlestick maker.

The handful of shops in The Arcade are now being evicted. The Arcade to be redeveloped as a large bar, possibly J D Weatherspoons. Friday and Saturday night Aldershot is full of drunken scum. The last thing it needs is another large bar.

Last year small retailers were evicted from Aldershot town centre. This was the idea of the Borough chief executive who offered to pay the legal costs, and cover the ground rent for two years, to bring in a Lidl. The same chief executive who got into bed with the developers who have destroyed Farnborough town centre, the same chief executive who said he would work 24/7 to ensure the development that will finish off Aldershot town centre would go ahead.

At Upton Park in London, the Mayor of Newham got into bed with developers, the same developers responsible for the destruction of Farnborough town centre, to destroy Queen’s Market, a very popular local market, and replace it with an Asda superstore. Local people who opposed these plans were called troublemakers. The good news is that London Mayor Boris stepped in and stopped the development going ahead, in the meantime Asda had pulled out due to the bad publicity.

In Lincoln local people learnt from a Notice hidden in the local paper that the City Council intended behind their backs to sell The Lawn. The Lawn contains the Sir Joseph Bank’s Conservatory, the botanist who sailed with Cook, and who founded Kew Gardens. The Lawn was not the council’s to sell, it was an asset held in trust on behalf of local people. The cost saving, the annual running cost, was that of one useless jobsworth.

In Scotland, bully boys at a local council tried to shut down the food blog NeverSeconds run by Veg, aka nine-year-old Martha Payne.

I was thinking I had never been to Totnes, that I have passed through on the train on my way to Cornwall. But I am thinking of somewhere else where the line runs along a seawall, where there is a town inland of the line. I may have had a fleeting visit to Totnes. I was at Dartmouth and one day went on the river upstream to Totnes, but although I can recall Dartmouth, and the River Dart, I have no recollection of Totnes.

Totnes is small market town in Devon. They are fiercely proud of their heritage and their independent local shops, they even have their own local currency, the Totnes Pound.

It was therefore no surprise when Totnes said No to a Costa Coffee Shop, this in a small town that boasts of 30 independent tea and coffee shops, 5,500 signed a petition, people marched on the local council. The council stuck two fingers up and said yes to an unwanted Costa Coffee Shop.

So much for localism and local democracy as promoted by David Cameron.

What had to be seen as a sick joke, in their application Costa Coffee said:

The character of the street would be enhanced through this proposal as it would bring a vacant unit back into use increasing the vitality and viability for the area.

This is the arguments local planers always use. One wonders who is pulling their strings.

Be it Costa, Starbucks or any other national chain, and increasingly these are global chains, the one thing they do not do is ‘increase the vitality and viability of an area’ far from it, they destroy the vitality and viability of an area.

What is vibrant about all town centres looking the same, with the same High Street retailers? Last year I went to Petersfield to visit One Tree Books, then the official bookseller for the Guildford Book Festival. A church, a market square, but lacking any character as the same High Street chains as found in every other town centre. I have seen the centres of Alton and Godalming destroyed by the same High Street chains.

But is not only the appearance. The chains are draining money out of an area, whereas local shops, each with its own quirky character, are recycling money within the local economy.

Georgia Starr, a 12-year-old visitor from Milton Keynes, who joined the No to Costa March, got it right when she said:

Totnes is quirky and independent and that’s why I like it. Milton Keynes is full of chains already and part of the reason people come to Totnes is because its different. Tourists like individuality and Costa would ruin this town.

Richard Taylor, who runs Beanbug, a ‘coffee trike’ which sources ingredients ethically:

Costa will do nothing for the town, the economy or local people. They won’t support the local supply chain. They don’t care where they get their milk or their coffee from. Where they go, Starbucks and others follow. They may as well just open a McDonald’s.

Costa claimed, and again do not laugh, a high quality coffee shop would attract people to Totnes. Really, I am going to travel all the way to Totnes to drink shit coffee when I can do it in any clone town across the country.

Fuckwit Councillor of the Year Award must go to Basil Cane who claimed the creation of eight full-time and eight part-time jobs would be welcomed (figures no doubt supplied by Costa and not independently verified) and that “In 12 months or two years, the people of Totnes will be saying ‘what a wonderful thing we have a Costa here’.”

When are thick councillors and planning officials going to wake up to the fact that chains destroy jobs not create jobs? When are they going to wake up to the fact they are there to serve their local communities, not act as facilitators for Big Business to muscle in and destroy the character of a local area, the local economy.

One of the pleasures of a day trip to Brighton is North Laines, three streets with individual quirky shops.

In Bassano del Grappa, a small town north of Venice in the foothills of the Alps, four independent bookshops happily coexisting. One was in an old palace.

Devon has green fields, dairy herds. Farmers are suffering as the big chains and milk processors are not paying enough for their milk. A local coffee or tea shop would be buying its milk locally, Costa import their milk from Belgium!

The empty unit into which Costa wish to move, was occupied until 2009 by Greenlife, a local independent whole food shop, who have now moved to larger premises. There are other independents who would be happy to relocate into the empty premises, but the absentee landlord refuses to let. Oxfam showed an interest but were outbid by Costa.

Independent shops provide variety and diversity, they offer a wider range of goods and choice, they usually employ staff who are knowledgeable and take an interest in what they are selling, and they usually pay higher wages. Many High Street stores are now competing unfairly by employing slave labour, unemployed are forced to work for nothing or lose their benefits.

Early in the week a friend and I visited Costa. It was not out of choice. It was late in the afternoon and Costa appeared to be the only place nearby open, plus I wished to learn why Art @ Costa no longer took place. Art @ Costa used to take place on the first Tuesday of the month, the same day as the farmers market in Guildford. The coffee was disgusting (possibly marginally better than Starbucks). And it was expensive. £6-40 for two coffees and a cup cake. To put this in context, excellent lunch at a Thai restaurant cost only 65 pence more. I learnt from the staff that employment conditions are abysmal, they are paid a pittance, Costa a bad company to work for.

Translate this to Totnes. I know from Art @ Costa if you have a coffee and a cake you are lucky to see change from a fiver. Therefore assume a fiver per customer. That is a lot of money being drained out of the local economy in Totnes. The only money recycled back into the local economy will be the pittance paid to the staff, and that assumes it is all paid back into Totnes, and not all will, even if we only assume money is spent on energy costs (heating, lighting, cooking, transport).

First it was Tesco (and be warned Tesco is opening a chain of ‘artisan’ coffee shops) that was seen as a threat to our town centres, now as Joanna Blythman explains, it is coffee shop chains:

Coffee chains in general are rapidly becoming a downtown planning menace to match the creeping supermarket threat. First it was Starbucks popping up like the proverbial bad penny on every corner. Then it was an army of Costas. The coffee chain assault on our town centres is now so pronounced that both Bristol and Totnes have seen high-profile campaigns – ultimately unsuccessful – to stop Costa opening.

What makes truly great coffee shops? Joanna Blythman again:

Truly great coffee shops – think Tazza D’Oro in Rome or Caffè Pirona in Trieste, are one-off indie operations, often family-run. They reflect all the quirks and preferences of the diverse group of people who run them. This authenticity is what gives the best independent coffee shops such timeless appeal, and makes them genuine assets to their area. Never confuse this venerable business model with faux chain coffee shops, stamped out with a corporate template.

But the good folk of Totnes should not be too disheartened. They should follow the advice given by Sarah Wollaston MP on Costa Coffee and vote with their feet:

I realise the people of Totnes are disappointed and feel their views were not fully taken into account. I now advise people to vote with their feet! There are so many wonderful independent coffee shops in Totnes, all contributing to its vibrant atmosphere and I wholeheartedly encourage people to continue to give them their custom. Taking part in Transition Town Totnes’s Independent Coffee Week earlier in the year enabled me to appreciate just some of those on offer.

This is only the first skirmish. They have had a lot of support for their No to Costa campaign. Turn this into direct action. Make this a very expensive exercise for Costa. Boycott the shop. Ensure not a penny is spent in Costa. Educate visitors why you are boycotting Costa. If the visitors take the message back home, an even more expensive exercise for Costa. Already nationwide bad publicity has been generated for Costa.

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11 Responses to “Totnes says no to Costa, local council says yes”

  1. keithpp Says:
  2. keithpp Says:
  3. keithpp Says:
  4. keithpp Says:
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  7. keithpp Says:

    ‘Costa Coffee not needed’ Southwold campaigners claim
    http://www.lowestoftjournal.co.uk/news/costa_coffee_not_needed_southwold_campaigners_claim_1_1479830

  8. keithpp Says:

    Costa bullies its way into yet another town with the backing of lily-livered councillors, this time Southwold in Suffolk.

    Southwold says no to Costa, local council says yes http://wp.me/pEcZI-3Et #notocosta #Southwold

  9. keithpp Says:

    @NotoCosta coverage in Guardian G2: The power of your local pound
    http://www.transitiontowntotnes.org/2012/08/the-power-of-your-local-pound/

    Totnes: the town that declared war on global capitalism
    http://www.guardian.co.uk/business/2012/aug/15/totnes-war-global-capitalism

  10. Dan Factor Says:

    Sorry but all this is about snobbery and elitisim. The real motivtation behind this is that the locals don’t want their town becoming like another other ordinary town.

    Clone town is coded speak for chav town. Towns populated by supermarkets, betting shops and fast food resteraunts.

  11. keithpp Says:

    This has nothing to do with snobbery and it is childish and boorish to suggest otherwise.

    It is about destroying the uniqueness and character of a town, and the local people are to be praised for having enough civic pride to be prepared to fight for their town.

    If you want to see what happens when towns are destroyed, full of betting shops, McVomits, tattoo parlours, large bars pouring drunken scum onto the streets at night, and other low-life hang-outs, plus of course large numbers of empty shops, try visiting Farnborough and Aldershot. Both towns provide excellent case studies of what happens when the local planning system goes horribly horribly wrong.

    On the other hand if you wish to visit somewhere with character and vitality, try visiting North Laine in Brighton.

    I can see nothing wrong with wishing to promote quality. Not everyone wishes to wallow in the gutter.

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