Six jobs stand to be lost if a public inquiry into Caffè Nero opening in Marlborough without planning permission upholds an enforcement notice issued by Wiltshire Council this week.
There was an outcry when Caffè Nero opened in April in the former Dash clothes store in High Street from objectors including independent coffee shop owners, the Chamber of Commerce and town council.
Caffè Nero moved into the shop and converted the ground and first floors into a café before applying for change of use planning consent.
This led to accusations that they had bulldozed their way into the town regardless of planning regulations.
The company responded to initial concerns over the way it opened before seeking planning permission with its planning agent saying it had won 16 out of 17 appeals in other parts of the country.
When a planning application went before the Eastern Area planning committee in July, Marlborough town councillor Richard Pitts told it that Caffè Nero “was arrogant and using bully boy tactics”.
Although officers recommended Caffè Nero’s plans should be approved planning committee members refused by seven to one. Fears were expressed that having a second major coffee shop in the town – Costa moved in several years earlier – some of the small independent cafés could be forced to close.
Claire Thomas, who ran Munchies café in Kennet Place, told the Gazette she was forced to close a month ago and partly blamed Caffè Nero.
Ms Thomas, who shut her café after eight years, said: “I had been struggling down there for some years but Caffè Nero was the final straw.
“I would like to open again but it probably won’t be in Marlborough because of the high rents and because the town is now saturated with cafés and coffee shops.”
Yesterday a young woman who said she was the manager of Caffè Nero said her job and five others, all local people, would be lost if it had to close. More than 580 people have signed a petition saying they want it to stay.
Pensioner Sue Jones, 66, from Homefields, Marlborough, said she objected to the way the coffee shop had opened before getting planning approval. She said: “They shouldn’t be allowed to get away with it.”
A Caffè Nero spokeswoman said: “The council’s (Wiltshire) own planning officers supported Caffè Nero’s planning application, and found it was ‘a thriving business which is attracting a significant numbers of customers, more than most surrounding retail businesses’.”
Richard Gamble, planning committee vice-chairman, said: “Marlborough is a vibrant town centre, and it is important that this vitality is retained by ensuring that shops remain available in the centre for retail use. “The council has served an enforcement notice to seek to return the premises to their original use.”
The planning inquiry is expected to take place next year.