The fight against Starbucks on St. James Street persists after residents witnessed yet another opening of the well-known branch in May this year. Before the development, this road was already brimming with locally-run cafes that neatly fitted into their quaint surroundings, making one thing certain: the supply of coffee was by no means falling short of demand. However, this seemed to be of little consequence to the multimillion dollar conglomerate, despite claims on their website of being “sensitive to communities”.

Petitioners rally outside the coffee shop every Saturday, and have hitherto reeled in the support of over 3,000 locals, whilst also informing those who are uninformed of the situation: that Starbucks has opened here illegally, without planning permission. One campaigner hastened to add: “It’s not just that they’re not allowed to be here, it’s that the company in general is monstrous. To corporations like this it’s all about doing whatever they can get away with to make more money.” Jon Barrenechea, manager of Duke of York’s cinema, called Starbucks “a particular nasty breed of corporate vulture”, a view which is widely shared amongst Brighton’s loyal locals. However, not everyone feels that Starbucks is to take all the blame. Robert Trovato, owner of Figaro’s Café on St George Street, said that he was not angry with Starbucks, but with the Brighton and Hove City Council. Trovato said that he “doesn’t mind Starbucks”, and that his business has been unaffected by the chain coffee shops opening, though added that he was “just fed up with the council.” Trovato contends that Starbucks have been given special treatment by the council by being allowed to operate without appearing to have a cafe license – “Starbucks” he said, “get a special law.”

Chris Worthington, an ex-council worker and planning expert, explains that “[to be] able to sell certain products, a business must have a corresponding license to do so”. To legally operate as a cafe or restaurant, a business must hold an A3, or mixed A1/A3, trading license. Starbucks did apply for a mixed A1/A3 license on March 19. However, Brighton and Hove rejected the application on the grounds that it would “undermine the primary shopping function and the vitality and viability” of Brighton city centre.

Since this rejection Starbucks has remained open despite only holding an A1 trading license, meaning that its legal status is a retail store, as opposed to a cafe or restaurant. Starbucks justified this by claiming that it sells “consumable and comparison goods such as coffee beans, luxury chocolates and coffee machines.” In light of this claim, Brighton granted Starbucks a six month stay of execution in late June. It is, as such, operating with the permission of Brighton council. According to Worthington it would not be wholly irregular for Starbucks to be “granted a retrospective license” after this six month probationary period, meaning that the branch could still be given a mixed A1/A3 license, with any past infractions largely forgotten. Despite the apparently controversial nature of the case, Worthington said it “is a common kind of dispute.”

Local business owner Magna Harbour is unimpressed with this legal wrangling, whose cafe was required to apply for an A3 license before opening, despite selling a broadly similar range of products to Starbucks.  The manager of the “Strength Café” on St. James’s Street claims that Starbucks are “pretending to be a retailer” to evade local planning regulations. Brighton council’s Planning Investigations and Enforcement Team (PIEC) is the group charged with “enforcing against alleged breaches of planning control.” No member of staff there was available for comment.

This contentious situation manifestly highlights the unjustness of business hierarchy, with Starbucks doing whatever it can without regard for local trade, through which the ineffectiveness of Brighton and Hove City Council is being brought to light. Therefore it is not just Starbucks- who already have 6 branches in the area- but rather, large-scale corporations in general, that is fuelling this local outcry. While the future of Starbucks on St. James Street hangs in the balance, more controversy is expected to arise as Tesco’s supermarket announces plans for development on London Road.

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