A CONTROVERSIAL park cafe has opened its doors for the first time, with the owner insisting it has been well received despite objections to the arrival of the national chain.

Costa Coffee served its first drink last Saturday after taking over the lease for the cafe building in Higginson Park.

Criticisms have been levelled at the national brand moving into the cafe, which is looked after by Wycombe District as the sole trustee for Higginson Park.

Objectors to the plans claim the picturesque park views are being ruined by the advertising signs and branding erected around the council-owned cafe.

But Paul Messenger, who runs 20 Costa stores under his franchise Coffee Snobs including the one on West Street, said Marlovians have welcomed the new cafe and insists his business is anything but a faceless corporation.

He said: "The general feeling is we have been well received, we had a really busy weekend and even today (Tuesday) it has been steady.

"The feedback we’ve had is that it seems to be an improvement, people we’ve spoken to have been happy and seem to be enjoying it. We have invested a lot in it and we have a whole new shopfront.

"Costa is a brand and undoubtedly some people have a problem with brands. But the other side of it is we’re a small growing company and we’re trying to build it up and employ local people in our two cafes in town.

"I understand people don’t want High Streets and towns to look the same, but brands do bring people in and they vote with their feet. It’s about getting the mixture right between brands and independents."

Cafe in the Park, the former independent leaseholder of the site, approached Coffee Snobs to offer them a takeover on the remainder of the 10-year-lease.

Carly Trisk-Grove, who runs a successful cafe in Rickmansworth, told the MFP the high rents and problems with the shelter-like building meant only a national chain with spending power could make the venture a real success.

Mr Messenger and his team have gutted the park building and intend to install air conditioning to overcome the problems of heating the shelter.

Costa signage has already been installed under 'deemed consent' rules for advertising, with the firm seeking planning permission for the shopfront changes.

The Marlow Society, which campaigns for the preservation and sensitive development of Marlow, objected to the plans.

Member Bob Savidge told the MFP the Costa branding destroys the largely unspoilt views in the park, and warns this could set a precedent for the commercialisation of the park.

Society chairman Martin Blunkell said: "The signs are ugly, spoil the appearance of the cafe and introduce advertising in to the one place in Marlow spared such visual intrusion at present. Col Higginson is probably turning in his grave!"

And Michael New, Marlow charity founder and OBE, complained to the MFP that the number of Costa advertisments, signs and umbrealla logos are overbearing.

But Mr Messenger claims the park is already a commercial area, with fairground merry-go-rounds and bouncy castles taking money from visitors on a regular basis.