Blue Diamond's Bridgford new build and Rosebourne's Aldermaston plan are completely new garden centres, while Ansell near Heathrow is being rebuilt. There have been no new builds this year, while in 2016 Rosebourne at Andover opened and Klondyke at Garforth was rebuilt. Mappleborough Green is a rebuild from June last year.
Building on old nurseries is easier for planning, even if it means a new start because none of the old buildings are usable. Otherwise, big revamps of centres at sites such as Tong in West Yorkshire or Longacres Bybrook Barn in Ashford, Kent, are paths to growth. An example is Combe Estate in Somerset, which with former Sidmouth Garden Centre manager James Trevett wants to build a garden centre on the site of Meadow View Nursery in Gittisham. An application has been submitted to East Devon District Council planners.
New builds slowed after Dobbies grew from 18 to 35 centres between 2007 and 2014, before Tesco sold to Midlothian/Hattington in 2016. The plan for was 100 centres by 2018, but that stalled and the company has said it needs existing centres to fulfil potential. Several Dobbies centres, such as Ashford and Dunfermline, are in retail parks, which helps with planning but means turnover needs to be higher than the traditional rural garden centre to sit alongside mainstream retail and leisure businesses.
New Dobbies' plans are to buy and build more centres, but Malcolm Scott's Chris Primett says the cost of building a garden centre in a greenfield site including the installation of services, highways and car parking is prohibitive at £4m-£5m.
One big greenfield site on the horizon is for food-based centre Rosebourne. Maximising food income is crucial to meeting turnover targets big enough to recoup investment. An enterprise investment scheme, which businessmen use for one-third tax relief, helps fund the group, chaired by Charles Good and with non-executive directors Jon Kitching, David Brown of Beckworth Emporium and managing director Neville Prest, formerly of Garden & Leisure. Salim Sajid runs the food side.
Kitching says: "After three or four sites in five or six years we will float on the stock market or sell privately so investors can get their money out."
The planning application for Rosebourne's second site in West Berkshire is for the erection of a farm shop, butchery, coffee shop and garden/gift shop of 2,860sq m and a 628sq m open-sided retail canopy. The application also covers the laying out of 1,750sq m of outside plant sales space, a 200-space car park, a service yard, demolishing of 2,094sq m of existing buildings/structures, erecting a 2.4m-high security fence, alterations to existing highway access, engineering works and landscaping associated with the above. A decision is due on 2 October. Malcolm Scott Consultants is agent.
Rosebourne's first site, opened in 2016, is in Andover, Hampshire, and is now turning over £5.5m. The restaurant takes £1.3m with 41 staff and will take more than £3m when the new centre is mature, says Salim. Food is 60% of turnover, horticulture is 20% and margin is 50%. Overall turnover is £4.4m. The designer was HPW Architecture and the building is by Thermoflor.
"Rosebourne will be part of a group," says Kitching. "We're looking at other sites but they are becoming more difficult to get hold of. A lot of smaller places have been gobbled up, though I don't see a massive amount of movement in the short term. We're looking for greenfield sites as much as anything.
"Then it will be six months for planning permission and a year's build. If you have to apply it's a long way down the line before you know if you have got it. It may be a disused nursery and you can tweak planning up to a garden centre or maybe some farm buildings. We're looking south of Birmingham in the M4 corridor. We already had planning here for a garden centre, though we had to put in a new application and change the look of the building and position of the site. In five or six years we'd like three or four sites."
Pleydell Smithyman has worked on the bespoke design. Roper says the design matches that at Fermoy's in Devon. Natta Construction is building the centre. Gilbert Evans advised Tarbatt on the deal. Blue Diamond bought three garden centres from the Tarbatts in 2008.