Garden centre case gives weatherproofing hope, says consultant

A recent garden centre planning case may mean garden retailers can 'weather proof' their centres by extending their product range beyond gardening and also seek alternative development value on all parts of their sites, planner Malcolm Scott Consultants has said.

Owner Malcolm Scott said: "Many garden centre permissions may not allow for this interpretation to be applied but there will almost certainly be potential to examine many garden centre permissions and sites for a value uplift."

The conclusion of the court was that the imprecise wording of the condition permits the garden centre to enjoy the benefits of open A1 retail use.  The implications of this for other garden centres are clearly very beneficial, said Scott if the wording of the planning permission and the conditions attached to it are similarly imprecise. 

"Owners of garden centres would do well to check their planning approval, and seek expert advice on the interpretation of it," he added.

Scott explained that the recent court case regarding Mere Garden Centre in Shropshire upheld the decision of a planning inspector at an appeal made by Mere Park against the refusal of the local planning authority (Telford and Wrekin Council) to issue a certificate permitting the use of the land and buildings for any purpose within Class A1 of the Town and Country Planning (Use Classes) Order 1987, ie the use as shops, including those for the retail sale of goods.  

The case turned on the interpretation of one of the local planning authority’s conditions granted in the original 2002 planning permission for the Garden Centre, he said.  The condition under consideration stated: "Prior to the garden centre hereby approved opening, details of the proposed types of products to be sold should be submitted to and agreed in writing by the Local Planning Authority."

The agents for the garden centre submitted a list of goods that they intended to sell at the garden centre based largely on the GCA guidance on products that a Centre of Excellence would be expected to stock (eg plants, shrubs, flowers etc) and those not proposed to be sold (eg cars, white goods etc). 

What the Local Planning Authority did not do said Scott was:
a)    write back and confirm that the list of products was agreed and, more importantly;
b)    correctly define the planning condition to be unambiguous, such as the more usual form:
"These premises shall be used for ……. and for no other purpose (including any purpose in Class …. of the Schedule to the Town and Country Planning (Use Classes) Order 1987, or in any provision equivalent to that Class".

The Local Planning Authority’s condition was considered too vague in two key respects said Scott:
a)    the use of the word "should be submitted" placed only an obligation on the application to submit the list of products and not, if the correct word "shall" was used, places an absolute requirement upon the applicant to fulfil the requirement;
b)    the Local Planning Authority condition states only that the "proposed types of products to be sold" should be submitted, but does not clearly state that only these products and no others are to be sold at any time.  

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