The society is concerned with Southwold High Street as part of its charter of "protecting the character and amenities of Southwold and Reydon".

Members will recall our battle to prevent Costa Coffee opening in Southwold in 2012 which we lost even though there were over 700 objections. The basis of our campaign plans was the conversion of the shop use from A1 (retail) to A3 (restaurants and cafes) on the grounds that we already had in excess of 25 establishments in Southwold serving coffee and the arrival of another one from Costa would hardly enhance "variety" and would put at risk the varied independent cafes already here.

Additionally, we cited Waveney's own strategy under policy DM 14 where such conversion "will only be permitted when there would be, either individually or cumulatively, no significant adverse impact on the character, appearance, retail function, viability and vitality of the centre, on highway safety or on the amenity of neighbouring uses."

Unfortunately, DM 14 concerns Lowestoft town centre but does not apply to Southwold and Reydon, but policy DM10, concerning changes of use, does cover us. At the same time as not allowing change of use of the A classes listed to other uses outside Class A, DM10 does allow change of use between those listed [ie A1 to A3, A4 to A1, etc.] which was why Costa succeeded.

Though initially winning, the decision was overturned by WDC Planning Committee on re-submission of the application. Our objections were even referred to as those of "nimbys" and "toffs". This entirely misses the point. Southwold now has a population of less than 900 but yet has a wide array of shops, pubs, hotels and restaurants. Normally, a village of this size would have none of these, probably not even a shop. Our objections were, and continue to be, concerned with retaining the unique character of Southwold, including its mix of independent shops, which is what attracts our visitors and makes the local economy sustainable.

We also pointed out to Waveney that letting in national chains would drive up rents and drive out local businesses. That is exactly what was happened with continued closures of long-standing and popular shops. Recently, these have been replaced by more national chain branches but also some new independent shops. So far, then, we have retained a mix, but this continues to be at risk.

A major new threat emerged in 2017 with new assessment of business rates which, for retail premises, are based on rental values. Given the increased rents now paid by the national chains in Southwold, this led to increases in rates for all our shops of anything up to 200%. After much lobbying, the government introduced a new business rate relief scheme and allocated funds to Waveney to use locally. This has taken the heat out of this issue - but only for 2018-2020. The challenges identified in 2012 have certainly not gone away.

Without our unique High Street, tourist numbers would dwindle and would be reluctant to visit if we become a clone of any other town in UK. If we fail we will see the erosion of the commercial viability of the town with all the adverse social complexities that would follow.

Our strategy is therefore in future four-fold:

Firstly, to lobby Waveney District Council to restrict the size of individual retail spaces that can be leased in Southwold, as, typically, most of the current shops are too small to accommodate the demands of many multiple retailers. Therefore, we will request WDC not to pass planning applications for large extensions [like 70 and 72 the High Street].

Secondly, the Society will attempt to bolster our cause in the upcoming Neighbourhood Plan for Southwold by formally limiting the extent of retail space extension that can be granted planning permission.

Thirdly, when WDC reviews its planning strategy for the future we will be part of that process to beef up protection of the High Street.

Fourthly, we are working with our local retailers to monitor the effects of the rates increases and the effectiveness of the relief system. So far, this has appeared to make the cost pressures manageable. However, we know the relief scheme is limited to three years, so we need to find ways of pressing for a long term fair solution. We are now represented on the Coastal Community Team (CCT) for Southwold which is a government backed project to help coastal towns retain a sustainable economy. The CCT has identified the High Street as a key priority and we will urge it to lobby government for a long-term solution. Significantly, the CCT recently undertook a town centre review and found business optimism lower than in similar towns. We must help our businesses to have a strong voice now and not only when the next crisis hits.

Members are of course welcome let us have any input if they have any knowledge or expertise to help us with this campaign.