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Jobs may be at stake after council ruling

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Directors of a Ryedale garden centre fear their employees’ jobs may now be at stake after it was ruled that they can no longer sell certain goods.

The concerns of Charles and Bernadette Hopkinson, of Steam and Moorland Garden Centre, Pickering, were raised as their application for a Certificate of Lawfulness (CLEUD) was rejected by Ryedale District Council’s Planning committee last week.

It means the couple now have to stop selling certain items, including sheds and greenhouses.

Mrs Hopkinson told the committee: “We are not asking to change anything – just to continue as we are as this is the only way we can maintain the viability of our business and keep these 28 people in employment, particularly through the long winter months.”

The couple, who have so far spent £57,000 on planning consultants and legal advice, now intend to seek a public enquiry to overturn the decision.

They are also likely to pursue costs against Ryedale District Council.

At the centre of the argument is a dispute between planning officers and the Hopkinsons over the breach of a condition put in to restrict what they could sell during the original application to build a garden centre in 2000.

However, the centre did stock certain items and others and to succeed in its Certificate of Lawfulness, the Hopkinsons had to prove it had done so for more than 10 years to avoid any enforcement action.

Mrs Hopkinson said: “We are required to provide proof and we have provided invoices that cover the last six-and-a-half years and statements sworn under oath to cover the remaining years.”

Council officers, however, said this was not acceptable as there was “no documented evidence from 2003 to 2006 and officers consider that is a gap.”

They recommended that the planning committee turn down the Certificate of Lawfulness

Cllr Tommy Woodward said: “The applicant claims that it’s enough for us to believe they are telling the truth but bear in mind this is an applicant who tells us they were selling items in breach of the condition since 2001, so they knew they were breaching a condition and then tell us to please take their word for what they say is true, well I’m struggling to do that.”

Cllr Luke Richardson added: “There’s a clear disregard for conditions which is something hand on heart I can’t support. That alone would be enough, apart from the evidence doesn’t stack up.”

But Cllr Caroline Goodrick said: “I have some sympathy with this council’s position, and some sympathy with regards to businesses in Pickering.

“However, one of the main aims of this council is economic development and the applicant tells use they employ 28 people, 25 of whom live in Ryedale. That is a considerable number of employment opportunities that we could lose if we don’t look at this sensibly and apply some common sense.

“The businesses in Pickering are still there. They’ve been selling this stuff for the past six or seven years, it obviously hasn’t hurt them that much.”

Other councillors expressed sympathy for the situation and suggested the Hopkinsons re-submit a planning application, seeking to vary the condition to allow them to sell the goods.

Five councillors voted against granting the Certificate of Lawfulness, three voted for and two abstained.

Speaking after the meeting, Charles Hopkinson said: “The question is did we know what we were doing was wrong - the answer to that is absolutely not.

“When we got planning permission 14 years ago, one of the conditions said we could only sell items on that list. Unfortunately, I forgot to include certain items. It was a comprehensive list but didn’t include sheds, greenhouses, winter fuel and other items that we sold at the Malton garden centre where I was also working.

He added: “We didn’t know what we were doing was wrong. I put managers in charge of running the garden centre and none of them knew there was a condition and I forgot about it as well. You celebrate getting planning permission and go off and do it.”

 

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