Housing remains the best bet for garden centre owners considering selling their sites for development, according to a leading planning consultant, despite the recent sale of a site to supermarket chain.
An Asda store is being built on the former Country Fayre in Ferring, West Sussex, that closed in 2010 for what was going to be a £1m refit. Asda signed a 25-year lease with site owner Michael Wiggins in November 2011 following years of planning consent negotiations. He had permission for a supermarket on the 12,500sq m site since 1986.
Bournemouth law firm Horsey Lightly Fynn secured planning consent back in September 2010, persuading the council and other local authorities that garden centre consent was good enough for supermarket consent.
Planning consultant Malcolm Scott said: "Because garden centres have had a bad year, people are looking at supermarkets. With everyone depressed about the season, ideas of selling to supermarkets or for housing come to the fore."
He said housing is a better option, with recent National Planning Policy Framework changes meaning local authorities are more likely to consider garden centre owners' ideas. If councils do not have a five-year supply of housing, owners can ask for their site to be considered.
Scott added: "If you get A1 use, planning authorities can still turn you down." He said planners should give restrictions on what garden centres can sell but sometimes they are "sloppy" and grant open A1 permission.
He said of Ferring: "This is not a unique occurrence but there are a number of special circumstances not found all together on most garden centre sites - the open A1 use class, the large footprint of built development and the location adjacent to a main road permitting good access and probably no detrimental effect on the highway network after the large Asda store has been built."
Final approvals went through last month and Asda is now building a supermarket. An Arun District Council representative confirmed: "The application was approved last month and the store is under construction."
Malcolm Scott Consultants Planning brief for Country Fayre site
The site was covered with a very large footprint of buildings and glasshouses that could be set against the proposed footprint of the new retail store.
There was historically a section 106 agreement limiting the use to which the site could be put but the owner negotiated with the local planning authority to lift the agreement.
The owner established A1 use for his centre to comprise 2,800sq m for food retailing and 3,536sq m for non-food retailing, and had already won permission for a large car park extension.
The site is quite special in that it is located on the edge of a built-up area with immediate access onto a dual carriageway so is not limited by the traffic movements that an Asda store might be expected to generate.