Coffee shop chain fears for St Albans

St Albans City & District Council

St Albans City & District Council - Credit: Archant

Campaigners are hoping councillors will wake up and smell the coffee when they decide whether or not to give Caffe Nero planning permission for a city centre outlet tonight (Tuesday).

Planning officers are recommending that permission should be granted for the coffee chain to change the use of the former Monsoon clothing store, a Grade II listed building in Market Place, St Albans.

But Marion Hammant, who has led the campaign to persuade the council that there are already too many coffee chains in the city, is hopeful that councillors on the planning committee central will take the opposing view at tonight’s meeting.

Marion, who is backed by St Albans Civic Society, believes that St Albans is saturated with coffee chains which damage local independent cafés and retailers.

She has received plenty of support for her campaign against the Caffe Nero application which has attracted nearly 200 objections to the council.

They cite a number of reasons why the Caffe Nero bid should be refused including over-saturation of coffee shops, loss of character in the city centre, the impact on local coffee shops and the homogenisation of the city centre which could affect visitor numbers.

But planning officers maintain that the proposal is an appropriate use for the building and would contribute to the vitality and viability of the city centre.

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They see it as preferable to the building standing empty and refer to research put forward by the applicants, Nero Holdings Ltd, that coffee shops improve the local economy of High Streets by three to five per cent.

Marion, who will be given three minutes at the planning committee to put forward her objections to the scheme, said it would help if the council had a retail policy in place limiting the number of coffee chains that could open in the district: “This is about what we want the town centre and St Albans to be. Is it going to be just charity, coffee and discount shops or have a degree of distinctiveness?”

Marion said there was ‘a degree of passion’ about the issue and said the leaflet she and others had put out around the town bore the words ‘Oh no, not another one’ as its top line.

And she called on councillors voting on the issue to have the ‘courage to say we don’t want this’.