Planning constraints are the biggest issue facing garden retailers, says Piers Mummery, who sold up his Shoots chain last week to Squire's and will leave the industry.
Mummery, who hopes to take a new entrepreneurial role after the summer, said: "The major inhibitor to growth is planning. It is so difficult. We've fallen foul of planning authorities on a few occasions. It's a really big thing for the industry. Local authorities should open up."
HTA president and Scotsdales managing director Caroline Owen agreed. "It's our biggest issue at Scotsdales without any doubt. We operate in a green belt area and even if you have special circumstances they still don't budge," she said. "If we wanted to do a really different building on our site we wouldn't be able to. Maybe under decentralisation that could have an effect."
Planning consultant Malcolm Scott cautioned that the current government had not relaxed planning law and was mainly encouraging development in economic development zones and existing industrial zones.
On the impact of localism, he said many local authorities are likely to be more protectionist. "However, if you can develop a good relationship with your community and offer a post office, or shop, or allotments, planners may give you better treatment," he added.
KNOW THE LAW
MALCOLM SCOTT, OWNER, MALCOLM SCOTT CONSULTANTS
"Planning has not got any easier under the present government. But strict planning law does protect the value of existing garden centres because if councils permitted building everywhere their value would go down. You can't talk to your local planning officer any more. You need to know the law. Because garden centres are successful, planning becomes an issue. For Shoots, the council made it clear there would be no more development at the Stanmore site years ago. Due diligence would have found that out. Planning is about using a technical solution. Owners need professional representation.