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Page last updated at 09:01 GMT, Tuesday, 5 October 2010 10:01 UK
Campaign launched to keep big stores out of Totnes
By Laura Joint
BBC Devon

Totnes town centre
Planning rules might be used to restrict major chain stores in Totnes

Totnes thrives on its reputation as the "alternative capital" of England.

The historic south Devon town also cherishes its uniqueness.

But some people fear Totnes could become a "clone town" and have launched a campaign to stop multi-national chains from moving into the town centre.

Local resident Jonathan Crinion has written to Totnes Town Council, asking if planning rules can be used to keep the chains out.

And he says paying a little bit more for local goods is a small price to pay: "We have to start localising, I think.

"Ultimately it is the people who live here that will have to survive here.

"When you spend money in these [major] stores, it is essentially money that is leaving the local community."

Some shoppers would like to see a wider range of shops in the town, but Mr Crinion says Totnes would lose its identity: "If you start going to every single town and they all have exactly the same chains, it's not very exciting for the consumer.

"What makes Totnes a specifically wonderful town is the uniqueness of it, the local people starting their own shops."

His call has received the backing of some local people and traders.

However, others question if the big chains can be banned.

"I don't think in law that it would probably stand up," said Dave Dommett, who runs Finishing Touches in Totnes.

"We are a free market economy so controlling what the town does is really difficult.

"So I think you'd have a job to do that."

But Mr Crinion says something has to be done to ensure Totnes retains its character.

"If what we do is allow the town to become another clone town and taken over by the franchises who see this as just another jewel in their crown to be added so that shareholders can make more money, I'm not so sure that's good for the town or the people who actually have to live here."

David Edwards, town clerk at Totnes Town Council, said there was little the authority could do: "We are very limited in what we have power to do," he said.

"We can make representations to the planning authority at South Hams District Council.

"In the Development Plan which is coming to an end now, we had a restriction to limit the number of cafes and restaurants operating in the town centre.

"In that type of restriction we could impose a limitation on the type of use of property, but not who uses it.

"And the new Development Plan, which is for the next 15 years, has already been drawn up so it's too late."

Should big stores be banned or welcomed? Post your views on the form below

I have lived in Totnes for the last seven years, having married a local girl. As I see it, a lot of the trouble with Totnes seems to stem from 'blow in's' (i.e outsiders), who having never had the want, need, wish or desire, to be on a council of any descripton, suddenly decide they will force their views on people down here. They suddenly decide that they are the saviour of this town, and will do whatever is possible and join various 'pressure' groups to make themselves 'right on' and 'hip' with the community....let me tell you, it doesn't work!!! You get people who seem to be unable to agree on parking, the width of pavements, the way the town is run, one-way streets that don't work, because they know best....ASK the people of the town what THEY want...you might be surprised at the answers!
Steve Hamilton, UK

My wife and I have been regular visitors to Totnes over the past ten years and the thing we love about it is its quirkiness. Filling the town centre with chain stores will destroy its vibrancy. Lets hope that those with the power will make the right decisions and help keep some of our unique towns as they are.
James, Hertford

As a resident of one of Devon's other 'special' towns, I feel strongly that chains should be kept out. Yes, we have Boots, W H Smith etc which have been around so long we hardly notice them, and which fulfil a purpose, but I am against a High Street which resembles every other High Street in the country. It's not just the big chains - I object to chains which push out the tea and coffee shops run by locals, with character. They're all the same, with a conveyer-belt appearance and product, and they have the finance to ignore planning regulations and present the town with a fait accompli. Keep such towns unique. It's why people like to live in them and what visitors come to see.
Donna, Tavistock

Great comments on both sides of the argument. If the focus of this aspiration is to keep the main street in Totnes unique then I think this has been achieved. Even though, as mentioned by another correspondent, some of the UK's most recognisable names are present. The real destruction wrought on the heats of English towns is the standardisation of the ground level shop fronts. Unless councils have used their powers to insist, the first casualty of a brand franchise moving into a vacant property is that the shop front is rendered flat with standardised glass, and standardised entry, and the franchise colour scheme and window top brand goes in place. Councils have (in areas such as The South Hams) the power to insist that occupiers of vacant shops retain the character of the building. This seems to be the case in Totnes where the household names mentioned are more or less invisible because their premises fit in with the look and feel of the whole street.
Keith, UK

Has john crinion poss outsider ever asked a born and bred totneasion how we would like our town and local comunity to survive with out a local supermarket we all work hard for our pay and cannot afford inflated prices just look at the local housing market millionairs row ?
C Sherriff, Totnes

Money talks. Huge corporations have the ability to spend millions hassling a local council who in the end can't afford to fight it any longer. Towns must have legal protection to stop the bully-boy tactics of big stores. maybe townspeople should be able to vote on whether they want a particular store or not.
Derek, Dartmouth

I had the pleasure of being educated in Totnes about 40 years ago. A few years ago I visited England and went back to Totnes; one of the most striking aspects of the town was the lake of "sameness" found in other towns. From a tourism aspect, I think it essential that Totnes retains that uniqueness, from an economic aspect I think that is very much a matter for the Town and it's people, and the Town should be allowed to create there own planning laws to reflect the will of the people.
John, Maryland, USA

From a tourism aspect, I think it essential that Totnes retains that uniqueness, from an economic aspect I think that is very much a matter for the Town and it's people, and the Town should be allowed to create there own planning laws to reflect the will of the people.

It's imperative that the big stores are kept at bay. My wife and I always use Totnes, you only have to look at what's happened in Newton Abbot, no choice. Ashburton is the place now, cheap parking, one off shops, great atmosphere, beware Totnes, let the big boy's in at your peril.
John, Newton Abbot

Totnes has had chain stores for years - Boots, Stead & Simpsons, Morrisons,W H Smith and even Woolworths (now M & Co). I can, however appreciate the individual shops do make the town different and I wouldn't like to see it change too much, but wouldn't want to see lots of empty shops either, so it's a double-edged sword. Small shops have more difficulty staying open, if you look at nearby Paignton, it's becoming a ghost town with dozens of empty shops, holiday makers just aren't plentiful enough to keep shops going over the 'off season' period. We have a holiday home in Brixham so are regular visitors and really enjoy shopping in Totnes, can't see where the really big chain stores would move in - there just are not enough big shops to attract them, so for now at least I think the balance is about right.
Janice, Leeds

There should be no problem in keeing chain stores away from Fore Street, High Street, there's plenty of room for chain stores, even if Totnes needs any more, on the outskirts of town. And protection of the 'main street' environment is perfectly legal.
Tim (Totnes born, bred, and nurtured, and proud of it)

I think its very important that the town and the local economy is protected. The introduction of chain stores should be avoided. I also believe that the Government should provide funding to Councils to assist the defence of planning: In Dawlish Sainsbury's and Tesco are persistently taking the local councils to court because planning has been refused etc. I foresee an increase in Council Taxes to pay for defending the local communities over the seven or so years of continued pressure by the supermarkets. In Totnes, it should be a priority of the council to protect the town and its local economy. As it should be across the country.
John, Totnes

Exeter is my nearest shopping centre. However, if I want to buy gifts, books, food and drink for special occasions, clothes, furniture or any number of other things, I go to Totnes instead. That's because Exeter is an archetypical "clone town" in terms of its shops, whereas Totnes is something special. If the chains start to dominate Totnes too, I'll just do all of my shopping online.
Rex, Dartmoor




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