No to Nero was the overwhelming message from Marlborough residents who accused the coffee giant of feeding off the thriving market town during a planning appeal.
The appeal opened on Tuesday and six residents gave evidence before planning inspector Phil Grainger in support of Wiltshire Council’s decision to reject Caffè Nero’s application while only two spoke in support of the chain.
Councillor Richard Gamble, who is vice chairman of Wiltshire Council’s eastern area planning committee and voted against the application in July, argued that the change of use did not meet the requirements of the Kennet local plan which states that developments must make a positive contribution to vitality and viability of the town centre.
He said: “The letter from the applicant’s agent paid little attention to the individuality of Marlborough. This was made evident when a very similar letter was submitted by the same agent in respect of a subsequent application in Devizes.”
However, Ben Price, Caffè Nero’s finance director, dismissed this claim. He said: “We make significant investments in the stores that we buy. We pick them carefully. We understand the difference between Chippenham, Devizes and Marlborough.”
Sarah Clover, for Wiltshire Council, argued that rather than contributing to the town, Caffè Nero fed off Waitrose and car parking, which both bring high levels of activity to the area.
She said: “Locating Caffè Nero precisely here in the High Street has the tendency to concentrate footfall and activity to one area of the High Street which is a negative thing for Marlborough overall.”
This was a point echoed by High Street resident Liz Rolph who said: “Having a café in the location where Caffè Nero is means that people appear not to be moving past that point as much as they did when it was a clothes retailer.
“I don’t have a particular axe to grind with Nero Holdings but I do live in the High Street and I do notice that there is less footfall.”
But Mr Price said there is no evidence to support this claim, adding: “We are in a very prominent position in one of the shopping centres in Chippenham. The landlord worked very hard to persuade us to go in there because he believed it was going to be one of the things that made his centre function properly.”
In his opening remarks James Findlay, counsel for Caffè Nero Holdings, said that the company had a fallback position and would be content to continue to trade as a takeaway only. He added: “Opposition to Caffè Nero is motivated by misplaced antagonism to multiple retail corporations.”
Caffe Nero moved into 21-22 High Street on March 24, days after submitting a change of use application, although they did not begin trading until April 30. The appeal has been adjourned until February 7.