A popular garden centre’s plans to expand on agricultural land with ancient trees and hedges have been given the green light – against planning officers’ recommendations.
Gwynedd Council’s planners considered a full application by the Fron Goch Garden Centre, at Caernarfon.
The members permitted the development – with planning conditions – to erect a dry goods store (for garden furniture) and an adjacent retail area to display furniture, formation of improved storage yard and extension to a customer car park
Committee members had argued in favour of the development saying it was “necessary” for the “Welsh aware” local employer to expand.
But officers had recommended refusing the scheme over size and on policy grounds.
The council’s biodiversity unit had also flagged up concerns over what would happen to the site’s ancient hedgerows, two mature trees on the site and one on the site boundary.
It identified a “hedgerow along the road and the western boundary of the site as “probably ancient and species rich.”
A decision at the July meeting was deferred so the members could undertake a site inspection – held last Friday.
The matter then came back to the committee on Monday (September 5).
Planning officials also warned members over not “setting a precedent” which could allow large scale businesses to come in, should the site ever be sold.
Gwynedd planning officer Kiara Ann Sweeny said: “We don’t want to see a supermarket established there – the sale of goods must be limited to sale of goods relating to the garden centre.”
The recommendations to refuse, were mainly based on considerations that the plans were “contrary to policy” as it was not a small-scale development.
“It is not acceptable for approval.” Ms Sweeny said.
A building 46.2 metres long, 22.7m wide and 7.8m to the highest part of the roof a total of 977 square metres was planned.
It would be constructed in steel, split into two sections, one for retail space, the other for storage.
The proposal would extend the customer parking area and create a storage area measuring 1452 square metres between the proposed building and the new south-western boundary.
The site would measure more than half the existing site, parking spaces would increase from 196 to 227, and with access to 12 parking spaces for ‘click and collect.’
The existing Pant Road site was 1.7 hectares and the centre employed 106 workers.
The planning report described the new building as separate to the existing retail element and added that it had potential for a “detrimental effect” on the rural countryside.
“The size scale and location would create an “intrusive development in the countryside” and the proposal entailed “development of an agricultural field,” the report read.
Officers felt there was “no real need” for the extension,and the proposal to “develop land without sufficient justification,” was contrary to Wales’ planning guidance.
However, the town council unanimously welcomed the plans, the Transport Unit said “it would not have any impact on any road,” and Natural Resources Wales did not intend to make any comments, discussions were only advised over water and drainage.
Local member Cllr Cai Larsen said “it is an interesting site, with mature trees and a variety of ancient hedges.
“But the applicant is confident he can contain them within the development, without impact”, he said.
“The business has every reason to protect biodiversity, it’s advantageous for the business to entice people to a beautiful natural environment.”
There was already a “significant development” there, and although the development was separate, it was “integral” to the existing business.
He did not accept the officials’ view that the site encroached on “high quality agricultural land, saying it was owned by the applicant and there was “no intention” to use it as agricultural land.
He added: “The business is very aware of the Welshness of the area and the people it serves, it’s exactly the type of business we should support.” He said.
“I urge you to go contrary to the officers’ recommendations.”
During the meeting a complex debate ensured over planning policy, conditions and procedures.
But, after members heard more planning advice, and received guidance from the monitoring officer, they voiced their views.
Cllr Gruff Williams said: “we need to support this local business. I propose we approve this application, subject to conditions.”
Hugh Wyn Jones added: “I can’t see what other choice this business has to expand. This is its only opportunity. I am happy to approve it.
Cllr John Pugh Roberts explained “it is not large, when you think what they have there already.”
Cllr Ann Lloyd Jones added: “I support this business, they create good jobs for local people. Every time I go there, you always hear Welsh spoken.”
Cllr Gareth Tudor Jones said: “the attraction is very popular, well organised and tidy, it’s a nice place to visit, they are a good local employer, by developing the site there’ll be more jobs.”
Cllr Delyth Lloyd Griffiths offered: “I visited the site, I’m familiar with the centre, they are a sustainable local employers, that’s the main reason, I want to go contrary to the officers, and there is nothing that will affect the land.”
Cllr Elin Hywel, added: “I have thought about this very much, not losing countryside is something very important to me.
“If this business to wants to develop and expand they have to do it on this location.
“From listening and reading it seems the main problem is linked to the new building which is considered to be separate.
She urged approval of the scheme with the condition to refuse the sale of food and building use related to the gardening business.
She added “They are a good employer they support the Welsh language and their services will promotes sustainability.
“It is also positive to see the developer keeping to the natural shape of the land and protecting the trees.”
A final vote found 10 in favour and two against.
A Gwynedd Council Spokesperson said: “At a meeting of the Gwynedd Council Planning Committee, contrary to the officers’ recommendation, permission was granted to erect a dry goods store with adjacent retail sales area, formation of an outside storage yard and extension to the customer car park at Fron Goch Garden Centre, Caernarfon.
“Planning conditions will apply to the development.”