Question of need

SIR - May I respond to the letter titled “Identity Crisis” from Mr A Hickman in June 24th edition.

I am an outsider living in Yorkshire, but I am also a very regular visitor to Sidmouth and have been for many years.

I also use Costa Coffee and, as I travel around the UK with my work, visiting cities and towns, I often buy their products and have been entirely satisfied. However, I would not prefer to buy from them in Sidmouth when locally-owned businesses can provide similarly first class products and, therefore, Costa will not be enjoying my trade in town.

I entirely support Mr Hickman’s views and advices in that all of us have a responsibility to protect the future of Sidmouth and its independent retailers from external companies who can ply their trade in towns where either they provide a unique service, or where there is a gap in the supply chain to customers. I don’t think that Sidmouth falls in to either of these categories and their trade in Sidmouth is, therefore, greedy and selfish. Even outside normal business hours, I can find refreshment in local hotels and restaurants, so I don’t feel they fulfil anyone’s needs here except their own.

A good example of just how wonderful Sidmouth’s local businesses are happened to me recently. I called in at a well-known shop selling outdoor equipment in Fore Street and the owner didn’t have my shoe size in stock. He actually ordered a pair for me and sent them to me in Yorkshire, free of charge and wouldn’t let me pay for them up front, but asked me to return a cheque if I was satisfied with the goods. Now try getting that service and trust from a national or multinational company. This is a man who realised that, in these days of Internet buying, a unique service will still attract customers and that’s exactly what Sidmouth is about - it is unique and needs to stay that way to survive.

However, I am concerned that, bit by bit, the Sidmouth we love and respect is changing, and not necessarily for the better. On a recent visit, I had to call the police to deal with drunken youths who arrived at Connaught Gardens in cars and proceeded to vandalise the flower beds and smash bottles everywhere and turn over ornaments. I gave the police the car registration details and good descriptions of those involved (they had disappeared by the time the police arrived) and the police said they would contact me for a statement (they didn’t).

On another evening, whilst crossing Manor Road car park, I saw several cars drawn up in a circle and, as I walked towards the Peak Hill exit and, therefore, near the parked cars, a warning shout went out and I was watched carefully as I passed by - I realised why when I caught the unmistakable smell of their drugs.

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The following evening was warm, so I went for a walk on the Esplanade at 8pm. Walking Eastwards there were lots of well-dressed and mainly older esplanaders, no doubt enjoying an after dinner stroll, and lots of young folks on the beach, which was really great to see, until a tirade of foul language, shouting and stone throwing started. The esplanaders disappeared quickly towards the hotels.

Pity the police hadn’t seen it, I thought, but as I passed Dukes, there they were, parked up, oblivious at this quieter end. The police then drove off and up Station Road. A few mobile phone calls later, their parking spot was replaced by more marauding youths. The whole nature of the esplanade changed in minutes as anarchy prevailed. I felt quite threatened and left the scene myself.

It was very upsetting to see this and I did feel very sad for those holidaymakers who had chosen Sidmouth to spend their time and money in. What must they have thought? Would they ever return?

Last year, my sister visited me in Sidmouth in her brand new car. As I followed two youths down Peaslands Road, to my astonishment, one of them kicked her door mirror and then ran off. Even as city dweller, used to regular murders and other serious crimes, this unprovoked action shocked and disappointed me.

The point I am making is that Costa may threaten local businesses and none of us want that, but the threat from Costa is nothing compared with the financial threat anti-social behaviour will create if it stops tourists coming to Sidmouth in the first place!

If miscreants are using mobile phones to outwit the police, Sidmouth needs to wake up to reality and grasp this problem with the same passion afforded Costa, the marina proposal and the Fortfield hotel site.

I’m fairly tough and resilient and hope to continue spending my money in Sidmouth, but I’m not sure others will be. Locals may think it’s none of my business, and I would understand that comment, but please protect your futures and this lovely town for future generations.

Paul Mellor

via email