Outlet aims to branch out into more clothing

A BUSINESS group is preparing for battle over a bid to sell more products out of town.

Heighley Gate Garden Centre, situated to the north of Morpeth, currently sells a range of items in addition to traditional gardening goods.

However, the products are strictly governed by planning controls to avoid conflict with Morpeth town centre.

Now the garden centre is seeking permission to increase its sales area for clothing and footwear, with an application to allocate 2,000 sq m of floorspace to the products, rather than the 1,300 sq m currently used.

The Garden Centre Group, which owns the outlet, argues that the existing permission for the complex already permits such sales and has sought professional advice on the issue.

But it says that rather than pursue a costly legal fight with Northumberland County Council it has submitted a new planning application, without prejudice to its position, to allow the extra clothing space.

The applicant says the move will help to maintain its 134 jobs and enable it to remain economically viable.

It argues that there will be negligible impact on the town centre, and there will be no increase in the overall retail floor area.

A planning statement to support the bid states: “The proposed development complies with Development Plan policies and, given the relatively minor scale of the proposal compared to the extensive garden centre setting, there are clear material considerations which support the application proposal.”

However, the Morpeth and District Chamber of Trade, which has previously resisted similar proposals, is worried that the move may encourage business away from the town centre.

Spokesman John Beynon said: “The chamber will be fighting this. It is another threat to the town from out-of-town development.

“This started as a garden centre, but now it is virtually like an out-of-town supermarket.

“Morpeth has been performing well and better than other towns in the downturn, and with getting rid of the traffic lights and free car parking coming in for Morpeth it is really starting to be on the up. But the last thing we need is an increasing retail area at the garden centre.”

The application will be determined by the county council.