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Gardeners Paradise near Canterbury in planning row fight for survival

A 98-year-old garden centre struck by tragedy says its future could be thrown into doubt if it loses a planning appeal over the storage of motor homes and caravans on part of its five-acre site.

The family-run Gardeners Paradise in Stodmarsh has been using the plot to generate extra income for a decade, but last year was told it needed planning permission for the venture.

It applied retrospectively to Canterbury City Council but its application was denied.

Now, owners Celia Hanks and Roy Chandler have appealed to the planning inspectorate in a bid to have the decision overturned and are urging customers to support them.

They claim the storage facility, which is for more than 90 vehicles, has very little impact on the local surroundings, and the extra income has saved the nursery from closure several times.

They add that a failed appeal could jeopardise the future of the garden centre, which was hit by tragedy last April when Mrs Hanks’ brother, Nigel, who helped manage the centre, took his own life.

In flyers being left for customers to pick up, Mrs Hanks says: “Over the last year or so we have taken over the management of our business again following difficult personal circumstances, and the income from the caravan storage is ensuring we can pay our staff and improve the premises while we once again become a profitable company.

“Storage for caravans in east Kent is very limited and we feel we provide a great local service with minimal negative impact and have a lot of support for.

“It would be very sad to have to close our doors because of a very small minority taking issue with this part of our business.”

The planning application was objected to by the Littlebourne and Stodmarsh Roads Community Association, which complained that the narrow and already busy Stodmarsh Road was “completely unsuitable” for regular caravan and motor home activity to and from the site.

The city council refused the retrospective application for three years further operation of the storage facility on the grounds it was unjustified loss of agricultural land, was urbanisation of the character of rural landscape and was in conflict with the authority’s Local Plan.

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