A reasonably fundamental question, set of questions, underlies this story. Who gets to decide and how to they reach that decision?
Coffee shop fatigue in a coastal town has resulted in a council blocking a new cafe from opening in a store left empty for a year.
Christchurch in Dorset had 14 coffee shops within a 500-metre stretch on its High Street - an average of one every 35 metres - before an application was submitted by chain company Coffee#1 to turn a former a shoe shop into an outlet.
Christchurch Borough Council voted to refuse permission for the plans, which would have created eight jobs, following objections from rival cafe owners and local residents, who complained there were too many coffee shops.
Among the establishments already on the High Street are chains like Caffe Nero and Costa, as well as independent businesses the Coffee Pot, Cuckoos coffee bar, Fleur-de-Lis tearooms, Arcado Lounge, Soho, The Boardroom, Wild and Free Coffee, Coast Coffee Co, Kelly's Kitchen, Baggies, Clay Studio and Indulge Yourself.
How do we determine “too many”?
Well, obviously enough, more than people want. So, having moved back an iteration, how do we decide how many people want? Our answer having to be leave it to the market. If 15 coffee shops can all attract enough custom to make a profit then the number of coffee shops that the people want is at least 15. If only 10 can make a profit then the number wanted is, by that measure of where people will spend enough of their own money, 10.
We do not - and cannot - know a priori how many there should be. Simply because the correct number is the interaction of supply and demand, something emergent from observed behaviour. No, we cannot predict with market research and all the rest, New Coke shows us the flaws in that system.
There’s also nothing at all to suggest that the local council is better informed about what the citizenry wants than the citizenry.
And finally of course, not using the council to make the decision means that the current suppliers can’t stick their oar in to limit competition for their own profits.
It’s not which way the decision went here that’s the issue, it’s that the entire decision making structure is incorrect in the first place.