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Lukewarm reception for Tesco cafe plans

By Sussex Courier  |  Posted: January 18, 2013

  • OPPOSED: Lynn Harding-Dempster, of the Old Fire Station cafe in Crowborough, who is opposed to the idea of Tesco half-owning a new coffeeshop planned for the area, pictured at the cafe on Monday TWAH20130114A-007_C.jpg

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PLANS for a coffee shop part owned by Tesco to open in Crowborough High Street have sparked concern for independent cafes.

An application by Harris + Hoole to open in the former Clinton Cards site has been backed by planners at Wealden District Council but residents, businesses and visitors to the town have said they are wary of the move.

The chain calls itself "a family affair", set up by siblings Andrew, Laura and Nick Tolley, although Tesco owns a 49 per cent stake in the company.

Its plans for Crowborough have sparked concerns that independent coffee shops such as The Old Fire Station Cafe, run by Lynn Harding-Dempster and her husband, will be at a disadvantage.

Mrs Harding-Dempster said: "It will definitely affect us, no doubt about it. To start with, Costa was meant to go there and I don't think that would have affected us so much as people know Costa is this big thing, but Harris + Hoole looks like a small thing, which it is not. I know a lot of people, including customers, who are angry that it will affect independent shops like us. But complaints won't make any difference."

Wealden District Council has supported the planning proposal so far, subject to the cafe's lights being restricted to opening hours.

Some Crowborough residents have made it clear that they would rather support a locally owned business, and that the space could be better used.

Richard Harris, 61, of Stone Cross said: "I think Tesco having a stake in a local business is bad. We have no independent shops, we need more little shops. There is no cinema or youth centre anymore. Crowborough is becoming very disjointed. The council has sold off everything."

A spokesman from Harris + Hoole defended Tesco's backing.

He said: "As a start-up business, Harris + Hoole is some years away from posting a profit. The Tolleys initially approached Tesco with the idea of creating a high-quality coffee concept for the high street. Tesco appreciated their expertise in this area and provided financial backing to help create the new venture, Harris + Hoole."

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  • Crowperson  |  January 30 2013, 8:43AM

    I think the French generally have more money in their pockets and a better standard of living. They certainly have cheaper rents on all types of property (as well as more rights for people renting). Ten years ago, far more people here would think nothing of stopping for a coffee somewhere (or popping into a pub) but now, things like that have become an unaffordable luxury for a lot of people.

  • SCNomad  |  January 29 2013, 12:34PM

    I guess the Fire Station was struggling anyway then. Seems a shame as I kno wthey did a lot of community based stuff. From what I had heard it was as much to do with property rents as business rates for many shops in the town. Although on balance us Brits are just lazy shoppers. The French cafe's, specialist shops and hypermarkets seem to work reasonably well together.

  • CrowSceptic  |  January 28 2013, 12:13AM

    Crowperson it seems the Firestation Cafe is not popular enough as it has closed! Extortionate business rates are just an excuse used by failing businesses to explain why they are failing. A well prepared business plan will take in to account business rates which cam be forecast in advance as they are based upon rents and inflation. Therefore if rents are high rates will be as well. The reality is that businesses in Crowborough fail either because the owners dont have sufficient business sense to run them, they dont investigate the market correctly, they dont negotiate hard enough on the rent etc, or because the residents dont support them enough. Or of course a combination of both. It will be interesting to see how well this new cafe does, I am not convinced the re are sufficent people in Crowborough prepared to pay for coffee to allow this to flourish especially with the competition in the community centre, at Morrisons, Waitrose and Baskervilles, but we'll see.

  • ViewofSussex  |  January 23 2013, 10:51AM

    I've only been here for 6 years now, but always liked to visit Crowborough when we lived in Tunbridge Wells and when the opportunity presented itself we moved here, because it was not T/Wells and has that sense of tradition left that existed up until the very early 80's in many parts of the UK. I especially like the fact that you can walk along the high street on a Sunday and it is not jam packed with shoppers. I don't know why we tolerate the woolly headed thinking that permeates councils up and down the country, but i guess it is apathy by ourselves collectively which allows bonkers 'thinking' like running up a £3 million debt to build a community centre because T/ Wells has one to flourish. We do need original thinkers in councils and councillors to remember at whose pleasure they serve. Councils cannot be the servant to two masters at once. Yes, a fresh approach to business rates is required, but i have a major concern as to the income generated by the chains in so far as rates are concerned. How many concessions have been wrung out of the council by them. If the debts owed to the council by developers is an indication of the councils business acumen then god help us! Well i hope you are right about the Fire Station, but believe sadly, that i will not live long enough to see a council by the people and for the people.

  • Crowperson  |  January 23 2013, 9:57AM

    The High St never really thrived here. We've had some lovely shops over the years but very few of them stay long and most of them seem to blame high business rates for one of the main reasons they close. Uckfield's really not that bad, it has a large variety of shops, including plenty of small retailers as well as the big guys. Large chains aren't all bad news either. If we didn't have the big supermarkets here, bringing business into the town from the surrounds, then maybe we'd end up with a big shopping arcade, full of large chain shops which would ruin the character of the town? It'll be interesting to see how the development of online shopping changes town centres over the next few years? Most people are presuming that online shopping is closing high streets, but it's mainly the big chains which are affected, whereas browsing round small shops and stopping for coffee may never go out of fashion? Granted, we don't need yet another coffee shop in the town centre, but if it doesn't offer anything that isn't already available, it won't last long and The Fire Station Cafe is popular, so won't lose out. People have always voted with their feet here (since the council never listens) so maybe time will sort it out?

  • ViewofSussex  |  January 22 2013, 1:40PM

    Crowperson- perhaps then if the council's attitude to smaller businesses was to make the rates more affordable we might then see more local people open businesses instead of the woolly headed thinking that seems to permeate local authorities. I don't recall Stowold or Totnes disappearing off the map because Costa Coffee couldn't set-up shop there! Yes, Crowborough does encompass a geographically large area with a fair few homes, but that is the beauty of having Tunbridge Wells and Uckfield just down the road. We can keep our town fairly traditional compared to the bigger town eyesores. I also, thought that the premises vacated by Clinton Cards was the preferred location by the council and unless i am mistaken we already have the cafe in Waitrose, Morrisons, Sherlock Holmes and the Fire Station not to mention the pubs that provide coffee and desserts. If the council can find suitable vacant premises in Jarvis Brook then great, but i have a feeling that Tesco want the High Street location for obvious reasons. I might also mention at this juncture that the chains or magnet shops as they are sometimes called have done us no favours as anyone over 40 can testify at how we used to have a thriving high street with small independent shops with great variety and character.

  • Crowperson  |  January 22 2013, 8:34AM

    If Tesco opened a cafe in Jarvis Brook, it wouldn't be competing with the Fire Station Cafe and it would be a much-needed resource, so why it's trying to open another cafe in the centre of town, where there is already a choice of places to go, makes no sense at all. Everyone's very quick to dismiss the big chains but with local councils charging extortionate business rates, it's rare for any small business to stay long in Crowborough. This isn't Southwold or Totnes, Crowborough is an over-developed suburban town with very little resources for the size of population. Chasing away businesses of any size isn't the answer and if ti wasn't for the big chains, lots of towns wouldn't have anything left in their high streets at all.

  • ViewofSussex  |  January 22 2013, 7:38AM

    I hope Tesco are not permitted to open a cafe here as in my opinion the independent Fire Station is a far better option to chose from. They would not be able to compete with a national chain and the council should be taking that into account. I hope local people will contact the council to support local businesses against the chains. If Southwold in Suffolk and Totnes in Devon can prevent Costa Coffee from blighting their high streets then i'm sure Crowborough can do the same.

  • ViewofSussex  |  January 22 2013, 7:30AM

    It is an incontrovertible fact that the council has absolutely no business acumen or savoir faire when it comes to local businesses or what is good for the community. It works on a tick box basis and unless local people make common sense objections it generally comes down to income generation and form filling. We need a radical overhaul of the way councils operate and especially the relationship between local people, councillors and the council, who councillors are supposed to make representations to on behalf of local people.

  • Crowperson  |  January 18 2013, 10:12AM

    If anywhere needs a cafe, it's the Jarvis Brook area of Crowborough.

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