THE OWNERS of a family-run Wiltshire garden centre that celebrates its 40th anniversary this year (2009) have been given the go ahead for plans to enhance facilities and revamp the 22 acre site.
The Self family, who run Whitehall Garden Centre in Lacock near Chippenham, originally submitted the plans, within the existing footprint of the site, to the planning department at North Wiltshire District Council in 2007 and were asked to revise their proposals in 2008.
The proposals include re-designating car parking, enriching the customer experience and improving pedestrian and vehicle access have now be passed by councillors and it is anticipated that work on the first phase of the five-year, multi-million pound development will start in 2010.
Managing Director of the family-run garden centre, Peter Self explained: “We’re absolutely delighted with the decision made by the Council on Wednesday, March 18, which will eventually mean the creation of more than 75 new jobs for people from the area. Our application was simply in response to a clear demand from our customers, who come mostly from a 20 mile radius of the garden centre, to enhance our site, which has previously been developed bit by bit, and bring it very much into the 21st century with regards design and layout and the experience visitors will have once they are here.
“We need to compete with other garden centres and to maintain our position in the ‘market’ it is necessary to ensure that the facilities and customer experience we offer is at least comparable and, ideally, better than those provided by our competitors.
“We also want to create a facility that is capable of meeting our present operational needs and those for the next 10 years. Anyone who visits us now will see that some of the buildings in the existing covered retail areas at the garden centre have reached the end of their useful life and require replacement.”
The Self family has run the garden centre since 1968 and has farmed in the area since the 1880s. Three generations of the family work in the business including Peter’s grandmother, 101-year-old Phyllis Self, who recently received an MBE, his father Christopher Self, who is the company chairman and his brother and fellow director, Mark Self.
Peter added: “We’re a major local employer with more than 120 members of staff and are one of the county’s top 10 largest employers. We all live nearby and we take our role in the community very seriously. It’s important to us that we get it right and we are always happy to hear the opinions of others.
“Last year, due to some concerns expressed by our neighbours, visitors, Lacock Parish Council and the District Council, we withdrew our original application to ensure we found agreeable solutions. We had the revised plans and artist’s impressions on show in the garden centre last summer and around 5,000 customers have filled in letters of support.”
The proposals include the erection of replacement and new buildings, alteration to vehicle access, changes to parking and traffic circulation, the re-ordering of outside display areas and changes to the layout of amenity areas.
Peter continued: “The garden centre’s development has taken place a bit at a time during the past 40 years. The use of space is inefficient and there is a poor relationship between the uses and activities that contribute to the garden centre ‘experience’ expected by customers. Now we have the opportunity to re-organise and get it right for everyone.”
As part of the planning application, a Traffic Impact Assessment has been undertaken and the recommendations have been incorporated within the re-design of the garden centre to ensure the safety and convenience of all road and site users.
Peter concluded: “The current access and car park arrangements can mean we have problems with traffic queuing within the site near the main entrance, which is used by both customer and commercial vehicles. Consultations with Wiltshire County Council, which is the Local Highway Authority, have taken place and its recommendations have been included within the submitted plans. We’re improving access and car parking and there’s no detrimental impact upon road or pedestrian safety as a result.”
To find out more, please visit Whitehall Garden Centre at Lacock near Chippenham, call 01249 730204 or visit www.whitehallgardencentre.co.uk.