Pleydell Smithyman owner Paul Pleydell says there are three main trends with garden centre structures: "Firstly, with banks still hesitant on lending, clients are looking to create cost-effective retail space with more emphasis on the display and merchandising to create an effect. Secondly is ‘facade-ism’, investing money in the primary parts of the building at the entrance and visible from the car park or road, in the same way that Disneyland’s Main Street is just a front for some large steel-frame warehouses. Thirdly, creating more covered retail, increasing cover over outdoor sales areas to create all-weather retailing."
Some big projects are still happening, however. Vear Group has recently finished a reconstruction job on the retail section of Country Market Garden Centre in Bordon, Hampshire. The building was destroyed by a fire in March 2010 and has now been rebuilt. It is due to open in April. Vear business development manager Chris Clarke says: "It’s quite a big job. We’ve been on site for about nine months. Back in March 2010 there was a dreadful fire that basically burned it to the ground and we’re rebuilding the new centre for them."
The group is using a steel portal-frame structure for the build. Its work there is valued at around £2m — possibly £2.5m to £2.7m overall. Vear is also working on a small portal-frame extension for The Garden Centre Group at Lechlade.
Director John Davies says: "Most garden centres are portal frames now to get clear spans. A lot of the independents are moving away from glazed buildings and towards cheaper warehouse-type structures. It’s the same building in some respects but with a lot less glazing."
Pleydell says a good example of cost-effective building structure is Ruxley Manor, where a simple portal-frame building now houses its restaurant, new food hall and head offices. Pleydell Smithyman recently won planning approval for the rebuilding of Country Market and, working with structure suppliers, utilised a wide-span steel-frame structure and a modular approach to detailing to significantly reduce the costs of the main shop building.
The company has also been gaining planning approvals on several Klondyke sites and at Garsons Titchfield to extend the open-sided canopy areas to provide all-weather retail space. At Garsons in Esher, Malcolm Scott Consultants has designed a long-term rebuild plan that includes a restaurant and new covered areas. Hodges is the builder.
Pleydell has also started work at Canalside Farm Shop in Staffordshire for a new standalone restaurant — an interesting building with a glulam butterfly roof. He says: "Changes in planning last year also mean that there is greater opportunity to look at conversion of redundant agricultural buildings for alternative uses that can be leisure-oriented and we are instructed by a number of clients to look at leisure uses in existing/converted buildings. We have recently secured planning for Hilltop Garden Centre for the Hillview group for an indoor café and soft-play area within an existing structure."
CambridgeHOK Construction has also been working on garden centre developments lately. It has just finished work on a 1,000sq m extension of Summerhill Garden Centre in Billericay, Essex. The building is a steel-framed structure with a trellis apex feature, along with Kingspan panels and a ridge vent system by CambridgeHOK.
Sales and marketing manager Noel O’Leary says: "The work was quite quick but we had a problem with contamination from the council, so we had to stop and do checks. It took about 12 weeks altogether. We did all the civils, groundwork and brickwork too." The project finished in January.
Thermoflor is currently working on refurbishing and expanding Bents Garden & Home in Cheshire. It is a 3,000sq m extension and expansion to create a larger retail area and centralise the offices. A modern approach is being taken, with the ground floor being let to other retailers to offer shoppers a wider range of products while the first floor will be mostly used for office space.
The expansion will be sustainable, using materials with high insulation values. Rainwater will be collected and photovoltaic solar panels will be installed on the roof. Work is scheduled to begin on the project this spring.
At Highfield Garden World in Gloucestershire, following the opening of a new restaurant, owner Tim Greenway opened the final part of a new development — 1,500sq m of retail space in March. The space will join up the existing garden centre with the new restaurant. "We wanted to push the business forwards," says Greenway. "Having the new space will make an enormous impact for us."
Its last restaurant, which opened 10 years ago, sat 180 customers. The new restaurant seats up to 300 inside with space outside for up to another 150. "Customers will be walking through more retail space to get to the new restaurant when the development is open, so the flow will be different. It’s all looking very promising," adds Greenway. "We opened the restaurant without any advertising at the end of November, and December saw an increase of more than 2,000 extra customers." The building work, by Hodges, has taken just over a year and cost almost £2.5m.
Perrywood Garden Centre in Essex is expanding its business by adding a new barn. The build will be 30x25m in size. Three-fifths of the space will house retail stock, bringing it from off-site stores. The remaining space will be for nursery production, replacing an existing polytunnel that is cold in winter and hot in summer.
"Our business has outgrown the barn we currently have on site," says Perrywood representative Hannah Powell. "It was always our longer-term ambition to have a second barn to ensure that our day-to-day operations are not restricted by a lack of indoor space." The build will commence in March and should be finished in September.
"The space will make us more efficient," adds Powell. "It will stop key staff members having to be off site. We will visit off-site storage every so often as well as improving working conditions for nursery staff." The groundworks will be done by local builder Paul Willis, the barn structure is by Johnstruct of Ongar, Essex, and electrical work is by local electrician Keith Mayhew.
Ashtead Park Garden Centre in Surrey is working on an extension to its café. Owner John Dipre explains why this was essential: "Our café was always so busy and packed to the rafters. We were having to turn customers away so we decided we needed to expand. The café already does a great deal for business — it’s so popular. Customers often come in when it’s raining and it helps the business 100 per cent. So when it’s bigger, it will be even more useful."
The café will sit 120-160 people and will likely be open in 2016. Dipre intends for the present café to stay open throughout the renovations. "We might have to close for about a week when we’re putting in the new kitchen, but other than that we’ll just ensure customers aren’t disrupted," he says. Newspan is likely to supply and erect the structure.
Fron Goch Garden Centre in Gwynedd, North Wales, is just getting ready to embark on a large extension plan and has yet to select a constructor. Owner Justin Williams says: "We’ve got planning permission at the moment to extend the shop, warehouse and restaurant. We’re just in the process of getting the work started." He intends to end up with a 50 per cent increase in undercover retail space, including the restaurant.
"We think this expansion will help our overall market position and increase our turnover and breadth of products," says Williams. "We are full to capacity at the moment with what we can do with our turnover in the restaurant. We need more seating to improve it — and we could be selling more products in the garden centre if we had more room.
"With a business, you’ve got to continue to develop it for the future and this means investing in it. You need a view to what it’s going to look like in 10 years’ time. We wanted to expand."
Green belt policy
Malcolm Scott Consultants says it is committed to promoting appropriate schemes in the green belt that make beneficial use of previously developed land, do not detract from the openness of the green belt or have very special circumstances. Local government minister Brandon Lewis has confirmed the Government’s intention to further protect green belt land. However, the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) has marginally relaxed green belt policy for certain appropriate development. Figures released last year showed successful appeals within the green belt had risen by five per cent during the 12 months post publication of the NPPF. The National Trust carried out a survey in December 2013 that showed 51 per cent of councils surveyed are likely to allocate green belt land for development in their local plans.