A BID to alter strict conditions on garden centre sales is facing strong opposition from businesses and councillors.
Heighley Gate Nursery and Garden Centre on the edge of Morpeth is seeking to ‘consolidate’ planning conditions relating to the sale of clothing and footwear.
The outlet is currently restricted to selling garden clothes, footwear and hats, and some outdoor clothing, to avoid competition with Morpeth town centre.
But it has been in dispute with Northumberland County Council about what is covered by the conditions.
The garden centre has submitted a new application to remove the specifics and provide for the sale of ‘clothing and shoes’, limited to a maximum of 2,000sqm of floor space.
A retail impact assessment, prepared by Malcolm Scott Consultants, states: ‘The applicant has been in discussions with the local planning authority regarding what type of clothing and footwear is permitted, and this application is a pragmatic solution to resolve any disagreement regarding what type of clothing is allowed under the present operating conditions.’
The centre still maintains it can already sell general clothing and 1,300sqm is currently used for such purposes.
The application states that changing the conditions will help to sustain the business and retain jobs, while the impact on neighbouring town centres will be negligible.
However, dozens of town centre businesses have objected to the proposal, and last week Morpeth Town Council’s Planning and Transport Committee stated its opposition.
Member Bob Robertson said: “It is trying to manipulate a known situation. There is a lot of objection to it and I think we need to maintain our opposition.”
Coun David Clark added: “We do need to defend the traders in Morpeth and support the independents.”
And Coun Stuart Lishman said: “This has been something that is continually applied for in different guises.
“What I am concerned about is the out-of-town retail offer. We really have to be very careful and keep vigilant about this.”
Acting Chairman Nic Best said: “This isn’t a consolidation, this is an extension both in type and in quantity of clothing. We are quite content that the two separate conditions make the points clearly enough and there is no need for simplification.”
The Morpeth and District Chamber of Trade and Sanderson Arcade are also planning objections.
At a chamber meeting on Monday, member Ken Stait said: “Heighley Gate is going back to try to cover itself for being in complete disregard of existing planning guidelines and basically trying to legitimise what it is doing.
“As individuals we should set the ball rolling and object, but also look at a town-wide approach.”
The chamber gave delegated authority to Vice Chairman Charles Robinson, who leads on planning, to draw up the objection.