Objectors welcome delay to garden centre plans

OBJECTORS fighting proposals to regularise what can be sold at a Northumberland garden centre have welcomed a decision by councillors to defer the controversial bid.

The application has been submitted by The Garden Centre Group Ltd on behalf of Heighley Gate Garden Centre, near Morpeth, to allow the existing warehouse to be used for retail and to broaden the store’s range of goods, permitting items such as leather products, luggage and camping equipment to be sold.

But opponents fear that such a move would create an out-of-town retail rival to Morpeth and have a harmful impact on the town centre.

Planning officers had recommended approval, saying that, following analysis by WYG Planning & Design, it was felt that the proposals would not have an impact on the vitality and viability of Morpeth town centre or any surrounding areas, subject to appropriate conditions.

However, at Northumberland County Council’s Area Planning Committee North last Wednesday, members opted to defer the matter to seek more information – to the delight of objectors.

Speaking after the meeting, John Beynon, Chairman of the Morpeth and District Chamber of Trade, said: “We are pleased with the decision of the planning committee to ask for more information. Hopefully, the members will reject it in the interests of Morpeth.

“We opposed the Tesco and Sainsbury’s bids for out-of-town supermarkets and they were dismissed because of the negative impact they would have on the town centre. If this application is approved, Heighley Gate would become a major out-of-town retail complex with free parking.

“Morpeth is bucking the national trend and doing well, but the situation is fragile and a development of that size would certainly harm town centre businesses.”

The Garden Centre Group’s bid involves changes to formal schedules setting out what can and can’t be sold at Heighley Gate, and the size of retail areas where ‘non-core goods’ can be sold.

It is claimed that allowing the warehouse to be used for retail would allow the business to operate more effectively. It is said that it would not increase the total level of floor space but would permit the applicant to redistribute it elsewhere on the site.

Those behind the bid considered it unnecessary to restrict where on site retailing should take place.

But the proposals had met stiff opposition, including comments from parish councillors and Morpeth Chamber of Trade, as well as sparking letters of objection and a petition.

There were cconcerns that it would encourage out-of-town shopping and impact on Morpeth town centre and Sanderson Arcade.

After the meeting, planning committee chairman Coun John Taylor, said: “The concerns for most of the members on this was that it could be seen as a major out-of-town retail development.

“Some of the stock isn’t what you would normally sell in a garden centre and this is largely concerning the traders in the centre of Morpeth, the chamber of trade and the Dransfield development.

“It was deferred for discussion with the applicant so we can get some clarity before we make a decision on this.”

The Garden Centre Group declined to comment on the planning committee’s decision at this stage.