Gains found in planning reform

Jobs and economic consideration may ease assent for green belt garden centres, says consultant.

Garden centres could benefit from the planning changes proposed by the Government, consultant Malcolm Scott has said.

Scott has drawn up guidance for garden centres and nurseries following the recent publication of the draft National Planning Policy Framework.

The draft can be a material consideration in applications and appeals and if it becomes law will sweep away a raft of planning policy statements and guidance.

"Sustainable development is to be permitted in a wider range of locations," said the Malcolm Scott Consultants head. "It incorporates socio-economic sustainability. So if a garden centre will maintain and increase jobs, it may help in planning decisions."

His colleague and senior planner Tracy Hubbard said existing planning guidance deemed developments or extensions on the green belt inappropriate. "But the framework takes certain small-scale redevelopments out of the definition. It is also more favourable to garden centres on brownfield land."

Coolings Garden Centre owner Paul Cooling, who had a run-in with planners over a proposed eco-centre, said: "The whole purpose is to encourage investment and employment and every application should be judged on its merits.

"The main problem was finding a consensus between planners, neighbours and parish and district councils. Planning officers have different interpretations so clearing that up would help."

Squire's managing director Denis Espley said many of his garden centre applications were for green belt land and any rule relaxation may help.

"I don't want to see a cart and horses driven through the green belt, but it's frustrating when small changes are held back. We always want to carry the community with us. What we're asking for is rarely very dramatic."

Policy framework - Industry implications

Proposals most relevant to the garden industry include:

- A presumption in favour of sustainable development to result in a competitive economy and vibrant communities.

- Policies should support sustainable economic growth in rural areas by taking a positive approach to new development.

- Authorities are still required to set policies for the consideration of retail proposals that cannot be accommodated in town centres.

- Authorities are to approach decision-making positively, looking for solutions rather than problems so applications can be approved wherever practical.

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