Garden centre decision due

CONTROVERSIAL plans to sell a wider range of goods at a garden centre near Morpeth have been given the green light by planning officers.

Members of Northumberland County Council’s North Area Planning Committee are set to make a decision this evening on the bid made by The Garden Centre Group on behalf of Heighley Gate Nursery and Garden Centre.

If approved, this would allow the existing warehouse to be used for retail and permit items such as outdoor clothing, cards, ceramics, luggage, prints, photo albums and camping equipment to be sold.

Opponents have raised concerns that such a move would create an out-of-town retail store which would have a harmful impact on the town centre.

A decision was due to be made at a meeting of the committee in May, but it was deferred as members wanted more clarity about the stock it would sell and any potential impact on the town centre. They also carried out a site visit on June 14.

Alterations have been made following a further assessment by consultants WYG Planning & Design as the council is recommending that the vast majority of the new items should be sold from an area not exceeding 50 per cent of the indoor retail floor space.

But officers are still recommending approval, saying: “The widening of goods and the implementation of altered schedules, along with the increase of non-core goods to 50 percent of the indoor retail floor space, would not impact on the vitality and viability of local centres subject to appropriate conditions.”

They add that the non-core goods need to be associated with items sold from within garden centres.

Morpeth and District Chamber of Trade has objected and there have been 17 letters against it, as well as a 45-signature petition.

In his letter of objection, owner of Rutherfords of Morpeth, Richard Rutherford said: “This decision would effectively open the door to a large out-of-town retail complex three miles away from the main shopping area in Morpeth.

“Allowing this to happen would seriously undermine the hard work and investment many companies — my own included — have put into Morpeth town centre making it the vibrant shopping destination it is today.

“Keeping retail activity in the heart of Morpeth is the key to securing the town’s long-term future, a position which was re-inforced by the local authority in refusing two out-of-town supermarket applications last year.”

Sanderson Arcade Centre Manager Debbie Anderson said if Heighley Gate was able to sell the non-core goods, it would “create a negative effect on retailers, dramatically reduce footfall in the town centre and drive shoppers out of town to a location that also offers free parking”.