Posts Tagged ‘Southwold’

No to Costa in Southwold

January 6, 2013

When Chris Rogers (who just happens to be the boss of Costa) visited the Suffolk seaside town of Southwold last month, his request for a coffee from a local cafe was refused because ‘it was 3.25pm and they were about to close’.

This does not mean Southwold needs a Costa coffee shop (as Chris Rogers would see it), what it does mean is that an indie coffee shop needs to get its act together or go out of businesses.

The only way independent businesses can compete with unwanted High Street chains and tax dodgers like Starbucks and Amazon is to offer better service.

For indie coffee and tea shops that means a quality coffee machine, someone who actually knows how to make coffee, quality fair trade tea and coffee, delicious temping cakes that if not baked on the premises are sourced locally from a local baker, atmosphere, and if someone comes in wanting a coffee and unless you have good reason to close and have cleaned your coffee machine you serve them.

Lincolnshire coastal resorts Mablethorpe and Skegness have been having their annual whine, no one visits any more. The weather gets the blame. It is not though the weather, it is the appalling service, the appalling food.

I remember when my nieces were only schoolgirls, they went to one of these seaside resorts, wanting a drink, nearly everywhere they tried was closed, even though only mid-afternoon, finally finding a place open, the tables were dirty. They contrasted what they found with Tenerife.

I have been in places where the tables are dirty, when I asked that the table be cleaned, I have been told to sit at another table.

Town centres are failing for many reasons, poor choice, lack of diversity, destruction of heritage, drunken yobs on the streets.

Bad planning is also a reason for town centres failing. One only has to look at Aldershot where local council rotten to the core has systematically destroyed the town, where planners fall over backwards to push through bad schemes on behalf of developers, where councillors rarely act in the local interest.

In Aldershot there has been an attempt to destroy The Arcade, with the full backing of the planners. A row of shops, around 250 years old, is threatened with destruction.

In Farnborough, an old coaching inn The Tumbledown Dick is threatened with demolition for an unwanted drive-in McDonald’s.

Gainsborough, an old industrial site was demolished to make way for a retail park, the same boring shops as to be found up and down the country. The town centre was gutted, money drained out of the local economy. The local council is now wasting half a million pounds of public money at a time of austerity and spending cuts to dig up the streets and tart up the town centre. Whilst the work is in progress it will deter visitors to the town with no guarantee it will attract a single visitor when completed. The councillors wasting public money are the same councillors who granted planning consent for the retail park.

Grantham, the cobbled market is being dug up to be replaced by coloured concrete. This has led to strong protest at the destruction of local heritage.

In Lincoln, Sincil Street, the only remaining heritage running alongside the Central market is threatened with demolition. A street of character, an oasis compared with the chains in the High Street, many individual quirky businesses, like Café 44, an indie coffee shop.

When are dimwitted councillors who push these unwanted schemes going to recognise people visit a town because of its character?

Contrast with North Laine in Brighton, three streets similar to Sincil Street in Lincoln, many individual shops, little coffee bars, packed on a Sunday. Unlike Skegness, a place that attracts visitors, be it for a stroll on Brighton Pier of the Promenade or a wander around the Lanes and North Laine.

Costa does nothing for a locality. It drains money out of an area, for each fiver spent on a rubbish coffee and factory cake, that is a fiver less a small amount of loose change drained out of the local economy.

Indie coffee shops serving quality coffee, locally made cakes, can easily see off a Costa coffee shop.

Southwold should take stock of Totnes, they said no to Costa and forced Costa out of town with their tail between their corporate legs.

Postcard from the edge of democracy

August 26, 2012

This month, two towns in Britain were engaged in a fierce battle to keep the corporate chain, Costa Coffee out of their high streets, Southwold in the East and Totnes in the West. A hundred people were thrown out of the council chamber in the normally quiet sea-town of Southwold as the local council voted in favour of the chainstore (following Tesco and WH Smith earlier in the year). Here Transition social reporter Jay Tompt in Totnes, looks at the process whereby outside developers and corporate interests outweigh the interests of local people and businesses, a pattern than prevails thoughout the modern world.

All politics is local but not all local politics is democratic. This fact hit home on Wednesday when over 100 Totnesians marched through the centre of town up to the local seat of power to demonstrate loud and clear that the town of Totnes overwhelmingly opposes the economic invasion by a large corporate coffee chain.

Follaton House sits just a mile outside the town centre and is the home of the South Hams District Council. The Totnes Town Council is virtually powerless. All decisions of any import concerning Totnes, as well as all other towns and villages in the district, are made here by councillors and bureaucrats, the vast majority of whom commute to this comfortable, self-contained estate, surrounded by arboretum and parkland. These commuters have little reason to visit the town and, for the most part, they don’t. If they had, they wouldn’t have been surprised to see their council chamber fill with citizens determined to make their collective voice heard. But actually, they weren’t surprised, just dismissive.

For three months, independent shop owners, community leaders, and citizens have built a strong case for keeping our local economy independent, resilient, and sustainable. They collected over 5,700 signatures from people opposing corporate coffee chains and in favour of supporting the over 41 independent coffee outlets in the town. They sought guidance from planning experts who found that several aspects of the Localism Bill and the new National Planning Policy Framework heavily supported local decision-making power on matters concerning sustainable development and the character of the town.

Strangely, even David Cameron is on our side: “For our high streets to thrive they must offer something new and different. But for this to happen it is local people who must take control, developing the vision for the future of their high streets and putting their energy and enthusiasm into making it a reality.“
Even more strangely, the South Hams District Council’s own development and strategic planning policy documents clearly spell out the strategic vision aimed at promoting locally-directed sustainable development and community vibrancy.

So, where’s the disconnect?

About 30 marchers were allowed in to witness how the wheels of local democratic government turn. The chamber is officious with judicial-style dais, the chairman of the Development Management Committee presiding in the centre just below, and above him hangs the obligatory still life with queen and consort. He was immediately flanked by the clerk and head planning officer, and on a lower level by the solicitor, secretary and the youngish planning officer, sporting sharkfin haircut and stylish suit, who would present his recommendation in favour of Costa’s application. The next three rows supported the councillors, their backs to the audience. All in all, a scene that’s probably repeated hundreds of times a week in council chambers across Britain for those charged with conducting the people’s business.

The planning officer made his case making slowly and methodically, making it clear in his first-person testimony – “I surveyed…I decided…in my judgement…I recommend.” He pointed out several times that regardless of the change in use of the property, the fact that it was Costa Coffee makes no difference, it’s not material, it’s not part of planning procedure, and not covered in planning policy.

Speaking on behalf of the people of Totnes, town councillor and community leader, Jill Tomalin, spoke eloquently for the need to reject the application on several material grounds, referencing current planning policy, as well as new NPPF guideline and the Localism agenda. After the Costa representative made his case, claiming that Costa Coffee outlets add to local character, generate more footfall, and give a boost to local shops, the floor was opened to the councillors. Local district councillors and allies then spoke forcefully for the application to be denied, citing the language in NPPF, Localism Bill and SHDC’s own strategy and development documents. Repeatedly, the planning officer and his boss made the point that the fact that it was Costa was not material and could not be considered. The council solicitor also weighed in to remind the councillors that the fact that the applicant was Costa could not be considered.

Comments from those who would in moments vote in favour of Costa reflected party ideology and a pre-agreed message strategy. Nearly every one began with the reminder that “as the Development Management Committee we’re bound to consider each case … blah … blah … irrespective … blah… blah…blah”. Some asked for further clarification from the planning officer, his boss, the solicitor – “we can’t tell someone consider who owns the business, can we?” A measure or two feigned angst: “I don’t like it anymore than you do, but our hands are tied.” One councillor pulled a Marie Antoinnette: “Over five thousand signatures in a town of six thousand? That’s …uh…um. Well, I don’t see why so much fuss over a cup of coffee. Humph.” And finally, an absurdly sarcastic councillor predicted that once it was in, Totnes would be thrilled with their new Costa. The entire chamber erupted with laughter.

The final vote was 17-6 in favour of Costa, who will soon move into the largest retail space in the lower part of the town, across the street from the Old Bakery. They’ll have 70 covers and will be in prime position to intercept plenty of tourist footfall. The landlord is based in London and refuses to lease the space to a local shop even through there have been three who wanted it and could afford the high rent. And now, apparently, the landlord is evicting a family who have lived above the shop for the last 20 years. But the No to Costa in Totnes campaign has not given up the fight, not by a long shot.

Fair enough some might say. Diving into the arcane “discipline” of planning policy is not for the easily bored. That’s part of its purpose, as is much in the way local regulations are developed, consulted, and propagated. But diving in might reveal that, in fact, the nameless, faceless bureaucrats were just doing their jobs, that the councillors hands were tied, that the system worked just as it was designed to do, minimising the fallible human element and maximising the smooth function of the free market.

But nameless, faceless bureaucrats and managers do make fallible human decisions without regard to justice, democracy, economic fairness, wisdom, compassion, collateral damage. It happens in every state government, in every multinational corporation, in every large organisation of just about every type, basically decent human beings, who love their families and want better lives for their kids, fill out the forms, tick the boxes, processing the inputs and outputs that keep the big machine running and the fortnightly direct deposits flowing. In their cubicles or corner offices, the ends of the chain of events in which they participate are perhaps so removed they’re not real, abstractions from a different department or continent, tangibly delinked from this pencil pressed to paper marking X in this box. And it’s in this incredibly innocuous harmless anonymity where it’s just a job and a cup of coffee is just a cup of coffee where anything is possible. Anything.

— Jay Tompt

Posted in One World Column.

What this illustrates is a complete and utter failure of local democracy. Thick councillors spouting what they are told to spout, failing to look at the evidence laid before them. Council jobsworth dictating to to councillors how to vote.

If local councils are simply going to rubber-stamp what is placed before them, what is the purpose of a local planning committee?

It is local people who are best placed to decide what is best for their locality, their community, the local economy, not councillors and not planners.

Look around the country and see how many town centres have been destroyed by local councils in the pocket of developers and Big Business.

Costa Coffee’s digital PR journey

August 21, 2012
One of five Costa Coffee shops in Guildford

One of five Costa Coffee shops in Guildford

Appears @CostaCoffee not interested in replying to democratically elected MPs. — Sarah Wollaston MP

Should be renamed how to ignore key stakeholders. — NotoCosta in Totnes

This has to rank as one of the most boring presentations I have ever seen, I was a ready to give up after a minute, but thought no, I will endure, and it was endure, until the end. I thought something interesting may occur. It never did. I was left wondering what was this guy on, as he droned on and on and on.

The one thing he did not have a clue about was how to engage with an audience, or how to make effective use of social media. I was never quite sure whether or not he was simply taking the piss.

Costa engage? Really? Try telling that to the people of Totnes or even their Member of Parliament Sarah Wollaston.

Costa did respond to Mary Portas, but that was only to refer her to their blog, and what was written there was a load of bollocks.

The blog is called coffee lovers. Having a laugh are we?

tweetlevel

– keithpp – 69

– notocosta – 67.9

– costacoffee – 70.1

No a lot in it is there? So much for the high digital profile of Costa.

The only publicity Costa has been getting lately is extremely bad publicity.

Guildford has five Costa Coffee shops, three Starbucks, one Caffè Nero. Somewhat overkill!

Note: I originally wrote there are four Costa Coffee shops in Guildford. My mistake, there are five.

Those in the know in Guildford, that is those who appreciate a decent cup of tea or coffee and freshly made lunches, delicious cakes and afternoon tea and scones, know to avoid the High Street chains who churn out muck that may have some passing resemblance to coffee, instead they go to Guildford House, a listed building, an art gallery and tourist information centre (always helpful), located top of the High Street, more or less opposite Sainsbury’s. Walk through, down the stairs and there you will find a delightful tea shop, one of the best kept secrets in Guildford.

The High Street as we know it is dead, says Simon Freakley

August 19, 2012

He’s the “retail doctor” that companies turn to in times of trouble. Simon Freakley tells Andrew Cave why big-name stores need a revolution.

The high street as we know it is dead, says Simon Freakley

The High Street as we know it is dead, says Simon Freakley

Simon Freakley is not afraid of being controversial. The chief executive of corporate advisory and restructuring firm Zolfo Cooper Europe thinks high streets outside London are dead and will never recover their former glories.

Freakley, 50, is also sceptical about the future for Marks & Spencer and other mid-market retailers and believes Britain’s commercial property industry has hardly changed since the Magna Carta and needs reform.

These are provocative views and more so because Freakley is far from a disinterested observer. His firm specialises in retail as well as the financial services, leisure and automotive sectors and has run high-profile high street administrations including Clinton Cards, Habitat, Hawkin’s Bazaar and womenswear chains Jane Norman, Fenn Wright Manson and Ellie Louise.

He is clear about the reasons for such collapses – generally bad management, failure to grasp the opportunities presented by the internet and social media, and being squeezed by converging retail sectors. He is the retail doctor and sometime undertaker, and as such his opinions matter.

Take Clinton, which Zolfo Cooper sold in June to American Greetings, its main supplier of greeting cards, after axing 380 of the group’s 780 shops and shedding 3,000 of its 8,000 jobs.

“It had been very profitable,” says Freakley. “But it grew very fast and took on a lot of leaseholds, many of which, frankly, were over-rented. When trading conditions got tough, the property costs were killing the business. The chain’s estate was ludicrously out of step with market requirements.

“In some large shopping mall locations, there were as many as four Clinton Cards stores. You don’t need to be a retail expert to work out that that’s a massive oversupply issue.”

Freakley says retail management teams are “behind the game” unless they’re on the cutting edge of online marketing and distribution strategies with a strong grasp of social networking that’s not just about Facebook and Twitter but also location-based sites such as Foursquare and content sharing service Pinterest.

“That’s what the really smart people are doing in the retail sector,” he says. “It’s absolute hand-to-hand combat between retailers out there in terms of who gets the customer and who doesn’t.

“Increasingly people are making their purchases at places like Westfield and the bigger out-of-town shopping centres, rather than shopping on the high street.”

Freakley’s analysis is that while the value and luxury parts of Britain’s retail sector are holding their own in the recession, the mid-market and upper-mid-market sectors are under pressure.

“If you look at the Austin Reeds, the Jaegers and the Aquascutums… they haven’t been smart enough and quick enough at moving their strategy…

“I think it’s one of the most pressurised places to be in the high street right now. M&S is in that space. I think it’s going to find it increasingly difficult to compete against value plays in its propositions.

“That business has to be fundamentally repositioned over the next few years. It’s lost its bellwether crown to John Lewis. What was once smart, refreshing and invigorating now looks stale.

“Marks & Spencer is a supertanker. It takes some time to turn around and what it needs is strong and visionary leadership.”

Is the current M&S chief executive, Marc Bolland, up to the task? “I don’t know,” says Freakley carefully. “I think the jury’s out actually.”

Freakley is a 28-year veteran of Britain’s insolvency scene, having run the corporate restructuring business of Arthur Andersen in the early 1990s before selling it to corporate investigations group Kroll, which was in turn bought by insurance brokerage Marsh & McLennan.

He stayed throughout and in 2008 led a buyout, renaming it after the European operations of US corporate restructuring business Zolfo Cooper, which he had bought for Kroll in 2003.

Zolfo Cooper famously handled the restructuring of Enron, and its US operation, with 60 people in New York, is now run as a sister business to Freakley’s operation, while another sister partnership is based in the Cayman Islands and British Virgin Islands.

Freakley is at pains to point out that retail is only a part of his firm’s remit, as are insolvencies, with Zolfo also undertaking other corporate and pensions advisory work.

However, the retail administrations are what has given the firm its media profile and Freakley certainly holds outspoken views on the future for Britain’s high streets.

“Outside London, the world is very, very different,” he argues, saying how he was shocked by a recent drive through Croydon.

“Quite a lot of retail space is now being converted into residential. There are only so many charity shops and newsagents that you can put on a secondary high street.

“These units that have stood empty for so long are now finding alternative use and secondary residential is one of the ways that’s happening.

“I think that’s going to be an issue outside London. The high street as we have known it in secondary towns is largely dead, I think it will be redefined.

“I don’t think many of those units will ever be occupied again by commercial retail space. People’s buying patterns have forever shifted.”

Freakley argues that it is not the volume of Britain’s retail sales that’s the problem – total retail sales in the UK have actually risen by about 3pc in the past year – the issue is where they are taking place.

Some 10pc of all retail sales now happen online, and major edge-of-town shopping centres are stealing market share from provincial high streets.

“Those online sales are not coming back to the high street,” he says, going on to disparage the Government’s £5.5m package of support to help revive nearly 400 ailing British high streets under a plan suggested by Mary Portas, the retail expert dubbed the “Queen of Shops”.

“There will never again be the amount of retail activity that there has been on the British high street.

“I think the Portas report reflects a lot of wishful thinking. I don’t think it’s a strategy that’s going to re-establish the high street to its former glory.”

He expects the effect of the Olympics in keeping visitors out of central London for two weeks in mid-summer will soon find its way into retail profit warnings later this year.

So are we going to see another spate of retail failures? Freakley thinks it is possible.

“The difficulty is when you get into a situation where your profits really only allow you to service your interest, rather than pay down your debt or do some of the more expensive restructuring that’s fundamentally required to turn around the fortunes of your business.

“For retail operations, property is their biggest cost along with labour but their ability to buy themselves out of or renegotiate their property costs sometimes is limited because they don’t have the working capital to do it.

“Landlords have pretty much had their own way since the Magna Carta. In 1215, enshrining property rights at the hands of the landowners at the time seemed a very good idea. In 2012 where we’ve still got quarterly rental payments with upward-only rent reviews and rent paid in advance, it’s an absolutely outdated model.

“Other than in the super-prime areas, I think landlords are going to have to fundamentally rethink the way the contract between themselves and their tenants works. You’ll see more turnover-based rentals and monthly rentals or maybe even shorter-term ones.”

It should all mean plenty more work for the likes of Zolfo Cooper but Freakley insists that the firm keeps more businesses alive than it helps to dismember, saying that most of the firm’s work never gets announced.

“Frankly, if you can get into these businesses early enough, you can make a difference,” he says. “You can change the trajectory they are on.”

Is it frustrating then to be seen as an axeman? “Sometimes, yes. Most of the stuff we do is quite complicated surgery but much of that necessarily remains below the waterline. We pride ourselves on the fact that we’re able to solve these problems before they require more public remedies.”

Published in The Telegraph.

I agree with Simon Freakley on M&S. The service is appalling. Often I go in and there will be one member of staff serving, a long queue and the other tills sitting idle. And even when all the tills are manned, still long queues. The reason is the removal of tills, to be replaced by automated tills, and insufficient check-out staff employed. What this shows is complete and utter contempt for customers.

We used to have bookshops, now we have Waterstone’s, minimum wage staff who unless you are very lucky, know nothing about books, as I learnt last year when I asked about Aleph, a new book from Paulo Coelho. Unfair competion, offering best sellers at half-price or less (a discount not made available to independents), is killing off the few remaining bookshops.

Greedy developers and absentee landlords.

On the street leading down to the church in Godalming was a lovely wholefood shop. It closed its doors last year. Driven out by a greedy landlord who wished to jack up the rent.

In Alton was a lovely wholefood shop. The man running the shop was hoping to continue for a couple of years in the hope of finding a buyer, then retire. The greedy absentee landlord wanted a long-term lease signing. The shop closed last summer, one year on it sits empty.

The High Street is dead, but it did not die of natural causes, nor can we finger the internet, poor service weakened it, but what killed it, a clear case of murder, was greedy developers, High Street retailers and corrupt town planners and councillors in their pockets.

Why would anyone wish to visit a High Street when it is the same Clone Town in Any Town, with every High Street looking the same?

When Costa, indicative of all that is rotten and corrupt about our local planning system, muscle their unwanted way into towns like Totnes and Southwold, then tried to claim they are an attraction for the town, that they bring vibrancy and vitality to the High Street, we have to at best treat it as a sick joke.

Costa though may have taken a step too far. I see parallels with London Greenpeace handing out flyers outside McDonald’s. McDonald’s countered with the McLibel trial which spectacularly backfired on McDonald’s.

Costa trying to muscle their way into Totnes and Southwold has spectacularly backfired on Costa. It has brought them national publicity, all of it bad. They are facing boycotts in both towns.

Costa has also highlighted that the local councils in responsible for planning in the two towns to be not fit for purpose with local councillors failing to act for the locality they are elected to serve.

Not that local councillors failing their local communities is unique to these two towns.

Aldershot used to have a wonderful Victorian Arcade. It was demolished, to be replaced by a plastic replica. The plastic replica, home to small retailers, is now itself facing destruction, to be replaced by a large bar and a High Street chain that keeps prices low by employing slave labour.

Bad planning has destroyed Aldershot.

Nearby Farnborough has fared no better. Planning consent was granted to demolish half the town centre to be replaced by a superstore, an estate of social housing was demolished for the car park.

Farnborough is now a ghost town.

Costa Coffee respond to not being wanted in Totnes

August 19, 2012
One of four Costa Coffee shops in Guildford

One of four Costa Coffee shops in Guildford

@CostaCoffee Please listen to the people of Totnes. They don’t want you, they have 41 independent coffee shops already! — Mary Portas

@maryportas thanks for your comments, it would be great if you could spare a few minutes to read our blog on the matter. — Costa Coffee

Costa coffee must be feeling it, as they have written a blog post in response to criticism by Mary Portas. They have not written or responded to the local community, such is their contempt for local communities.

They cannot even get the link right, they link to the blog, not the post.

The blog is called For Coffee Lovers. Somewhat Orwellian. The one place coffee lovers would not go is Costa.

They say planning is complicated. Actually it is not. It should be a process whereby local people collectively decide what is best for their locality. In Totnes it spectacularly failed. Local councillors ignored the wishes of local people and rubber-stamped the Costa application for an unwanted Costa Coffee shop.

The same happened in Southwold, where again the local council ignored the wishes of local people and rubber-stamped an application from Costa for an unwanted Costa coffee shop, only in this case somewhat bizarrely approved an identical application which only weeks before they had rejected. What had changed?

Planning process is complicated? Is that the excuse put forward by Costa for ignoring the planning system altogether and illegally opening coffee shops in Bristol and sticking two fingers up to the local planning process?

The Costa blog is mealy-mouthed bollocks, half truths and lies.

Costa tell us they are doing Totnes a favour by filling an empty unit, that they are providing a social space, that they are merely simply coffee servers, no threat to anyone, they contribute to a local community, their offering is very different to local coffee shops.

Their offering is very different to local coffee shops. I would hope it is. I would hope local coffee shops serve decent coffee, freshly made, locally-sourced sourced cakes from the local baker (or better still bake their own) and that they do not charge extortionate prices for a cake and a coffee.

Provision of social space. Something all coffee shops provide, only when they are independent not a corporate outlet, it is a genuine social space.

Why would a Costa coffee shop bring people into an area to spend their money when the same Costa Coffee shop can be found in any Clone Town across the country? And even if it did, the money spent would be immediately sucked out of the local economy.

The shop unit would not have sat empty, there were other interested parties, but the absentee landlord refused to let.

Yes, Internet does suck money out of a local economy, but then so does Costa.

80p in the pound spent in a local shop gets re-spent in the local economy.

If Costa are happy to coexist with other independent coffee shops, then why do they flood an area with Costa Coffee shops (often with no planning consent), in a deliberate attempt to drive the other coffee shops out of business? The same aggressive tactics used by Starbucks.

At the end of the day, we’re just coffee shop operators. We’re not out to cause trouble or put people out of business. We’re there to serve coffee and provide a social space – nothing more.

One could almost be forgiven for believing Costa was a social enterprise, there for the good of the local community, a not-for-profit entity, not an aggressive wholly-owned subsidiary of Whibread, each a profit centre geared to extract the maximum revenue from a locality.

The Arcade

August 15, 2012
The Arcade a Victorian arcade destroyed by greed!

The Arcade a Victorian arcade destroyed by greed!

These signatures have just been collected from customers coming into two shops in the Arcade – we haven’t even gone out to collect them on the high street. – Reza Asjadi, who owns Aladdin’s Cave

The Arcade in Aldershot is illustrative of all that is wrong and rotten with our local planning system.

Aldershot is a Victorian town, though you would not realise this as you wander through the town as you see the tacky shops fronts (the fault of the useless council), but look up above the shop fronts and you will see lovely Victorian architecture, and reflect on what might have been at ground level.

Aldershot grew very rapidly from a small village surrounded by heathland when Queen Victoria decided it would be a suitable location for the British Army, the heathland providing excellent training ground.

Aldershot used to have a Victorian Arcade, one of only a few in the country, a listed building. The Arcade was opened by Messrs Park and Sparkhall in July 1914. The local council, the Rotten Borough of Rushmoor as it is known locally, allowed its destruction. In its place a cheap plastic replica. The boarded-up empty shops units had painted the butcher, the baker, the candlestick maker. Planning conditions were laid down, it had to be a walk through arcade, it had to be open to the sky. The new cheap replica arcade probably never exceeded 50% occupancy.

A new developer has taken over The Arcade. The first act of the new developer was to kick out the existing retailers to make way for a large bar, possibly a J D Wetherspoons, plus a large retail unit, possible Poundland.

This is bad news for Aldershot on several grounds.

Aldershot is a black hole of deprivation in an otherwise affluent South-East. Housing Benefit claims are double that of the surrounding area.

Local retailers recycle money within the local economy. A J D Wetherspoons would suck money out of the local economy.

It is also believed a large retail unit will be created, possibly for Poundland. Poundland employ slave labour, unemployed are forced to work at Poundland for nothing, or risk losing their benefits if they refuse. This is unfair competition to other retailers.

The Arcade used to have a lovely coffee shop. Forced out by the developer. It also had an old fashioned shop where you could buy almost anything, how shops once used to be. They have been forced out in the last few days. They have managed to relocate, but into a much smaller shop than the one they used to have.

Friday and Saturday night, the streets in the centre of Aldershot are full of drunken scum, fights break out. This is a drain on local policing resources, they have to call for backup from outside Aldershot. It is a drain on the Accident and Emergency at Frimley Park Hospital, putting staff at risk who have to deal with the drunken scum.

The Arcade provides a convenient short cut, especially so when it is raining. It was a planning condition that this had to be maintained.

What has to be seen as a sick joke, the developers in their planning application say closing the popular short cut will reduce antisocial behaviour in the evening! This is like saying the rubbish bins are overflowing, we will solve the problem by removing the rubbish bins. Retailers in The Arcade say their walk through arcade is not a source of antisocial behaviour and never has been.

Fleet, Camberley, Guildford all have large J D Wetherspoon bars, all are known hotspots for drunken scum on Friday and Saturday nights.

Reza Asjadi, who owns Aladdin’s Cave, until recently in The Arcade, has collected 4,000 signatures opposing redevelopment of The Arcade, without really trying, just from people popping into his shop. He has been forced out of The Arcade and as a consequence had to sell off four van loads of stock at knock down prices as no room in his new shop.

The local planning committee is stacked with cretins, clueless imbeciles who have no vision or imagination and lack any understanding of either planning or how local economies function. They have presided over the destruction of Aldershot town centre:

  • a shopping centre that gutted the heart of Aldershot
  • an out of town Tesco superstore
  • an eyesore development on the edge of town out of character with the town, which will relocate the retail centre of gravity away from the town centre

Were it not for the ethnic food shops that keep springing up like mushrooms after heavy rain, Aldershot would be dead.

Farnborough has fared no better under a council that has no vision, has no pride in its local towns. Half of Farnborough town centre has been demolished to make way for a Sainsbury’s superstore (in an area saturated with superstores), local businesses kicked out of their retail units, a housing estate of social housing demolished to make way for the car park. Farnborough town centre is now a ghost town.

It sadly is not only Aldershot and Farnborough where local people are let down by their local councils.

Totnes in Devon and Southwold in Suffolk are both towns with character. Costa against the strong opposition of local people, local businesses, decided to muscle its way into both towns.

Last week the local council rubber-stamped an unwanted Costa Coffee Shop for Totnes, last night the local council rubber-stamped an unwanted Costa Coffee Shop for Southwold.

The only people who are best placed to decide what is best for a local area are those who live, work and play there, not local councillors, not local planners and certainly not Big Business and developers who are looking to make a fast buck and milk what they can out of an area.

Time and time again, two fingers are stuck up to local people, those who should be acting for the local community are too preoccupied with their snouts stuck firmly in the trough.

Southwold says no to Costa, local council says yes

August 14, 2012
Southwold notocosta

Southwold notocosta

Dear twitter. Despite all the support objecting to Costa Coffee in Southwold, their application was passed tonight. — Emma Freud

Once again we have a local council sticking two fingers up to local residents and acting in the interest of Big Business, not the locality, not the local economy.

Advice from useless planning officials: Councillors must rubber-stamp application as will cost the Council money if it goes to appeal.

It only costs money if you lose. You only lose because the planning officials are not up to the job. They are capable of deciding where a garden shed may be sited, and often not that, anything else is way beyond their pay grade and competence.

Residents of Southwold said they did not want a Costa Coffee Shop in their town. A previous application was refused on the grounds that it could harm the town’s “unique character”. If that was true before, what has changed?

There may be grounds for a Judicial Review, though these are granted not on the merits or otherwise of the application but on whether or not correct procedures are followed.

Questions have to be raised against the planning officials who pushed on behalf of Costa. They claimed it would not detrimentally affect the “vitality and viability” of the town centre.

This is simply not true. Clone shops, the same in every town centre up and down the country are destroying our towns, turning them into clone towns. Those towns and town centres that are vibrant and full of vitality are those which lack clone shops, North Laines in Brighton is a good example. One of the pleasures of a day trip to Brighton is North Laines, three streets with individual quirky shops. Clone shops are draining money out of an area, thus are a detriment to the vitality and viability of an area. A Costa Coffee Shop is not going to draw people in when you can drink their disgusting coffee anywhere in the country.

Shame on those councillors who failed to act on behalf of local people, on behalf of the local economy. The very people they are elected to serve.

One pathetic councillor left in tears after being heckled. She has only herself to blame.

The public gallery was then cleared. The public should have refused to leave, and only left if the police were called and asked them to leave. The Town Hall belongs to the people.

What we have seen is a repeat of what happened in Bristol and Totnes: Costa like a bunch of corporate thugs muscling their way into a town where they are not wanted and lily-livered councillors kowtowing to Costa.

The good folk of Southwold now need to organise a boycott of Costa.