Stockport Council is to consider a refreshed planning application as the urban farm’s operator seeks to “regularise” activities and map out further plans.
Although operational on Lakes Road in Marple’s Green Belt since 2016, the Garden House exists in a state of planning limbo.
The 27-acre site’s owner Kevin Swindells had applied for planning permission in July 2015, but opened the attraction before the application was determined.
These proposals then went before Stockport’s planning committee in June 2017 and were refused, with the local authority following up by issuing Garden House with an enforcement notice to cease its activities and remove all new structures from the site.
A further planning application also failed, being refused in 2018. That refusal and the refreshed enforcement notice have been appealed, with an inquiry now due to start early next year.
The latest application, filed by Emery Planning on behalf of the Garden House charitable trust, reports that dialogue with the council has been positive as both sides seek a solution to head off the need for an inquiry.
Managed by trustees, the Garden House is open for six hours six days a week. It has a café and has become a well-used facility, building strong links with schools, learning difficulties charities and older people’s organisations. There is no compulsory charge, with the venue operating on donations.
Speaking with parties on both sides of the issue, dialogue between the parties has become more constructive, Place North West understands.
There had in past years been some frustration among councillors and officers that attempts to set in place a proper legal context for a destination many of them would like to see prosper have become bogged down, while a rather one-sided PR battle is waged.
A post on the Garden House website in April this year celebrated a petition supporting the centre reaching 30,000 signatures, reporting “your comments and support prove to the council that the Garden House is an asset to our community that should NOT be closed down”.
What comes before members now is a fuller plan that looks to show members the additional benefits the scheme could bring.
Randfield Associates has provided heritage advice, while Urban Green has provided landscape visual assessment, ecology appraisal, arboriculture impact assessment and woodland management plan. Focus Transport and flood risk expert Peter Mason Associates are also on the professional team.
The application proposals seek a retrospective change of use consent for an urban farm and educational facility, including the retention of existing structures including café building, animal housing, storage containers and car parking.
The pre-school facility located on-site is to be relocated, having been given notice to quit by October this year. Emery points out that the applicant has also already removed some structures as requested, including three storage containers and tented shelters.
Earlier this year, the charity completed the construction of a sensory garden on-site with support from the National Lottery’s community fund.
Permission is also sought for the reconstruction of the Garden House itself – a building that originally formed part of the Mellor Mill estate – which would then allow the rationalisation of other structures on a site that previously housed part of a local tip.
A redeveloped Garden House would house the site’s café, alongside reception, administration offices and toilets, along with classroom and audiovisual interpretation space.
The rebuild would use a mix of materials, with the applicant stating that much of the stone from the original building has been retained. Heritage Lottery Fund support is being sought for the Garden House element.
In terms of addressing the Green Belt issue, Emery points out in its planning statement that the site will be mostly open in use, and that it benefits from a high level of visual containment.
Emery also argues that the community benefit of the venue should come into play as ‘very special circumstances in planning terms, spelling out the relationships built with charities and care providers including the Seashell Trust.