Fears for future of garden centre as new location revealed

Plans to relocate a popular Merseyside garden centre could put the future of the business at risk, an employee has said.

Whitakers Garden Centre in Prescot has applied for permission to move to a different site in the town to make way for a controversial housing development at its current home in Liverpool Road.

Moving the garden centre is supposed to make sure it can keep trading in Prescot, safeguarding 18 jobs and securing £4 million of investment in the town.

But the proposed site in Manchester Road, wedged between the community fire station and a Barratt Homes development, is less than half the size of its current home and one employee fears the move will mean the end of Whitakers.

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Mike Gittens told the ECHO: "What they are suggesting is going to extinguish a valuable asset to the community. Whether it will still be there in five years, we will see."

Plans for the new garden centre, published on Knowsley Council’s website last week, show Whitakers intends to build a 1,500 square metre building, with another 1,000 square metres of outdoor sales space at the new location.

Builders merchants Beesley and Fildes will also move from the Liverpool Road site to a new location off Cables Way, just behind the site proposed for Whitakers.

But Mr Gittens believes the new site is not large enough to sustain the business.

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He said: “That site they are moving us to is too small. We are being shoe-horned into a corner where there's no future growth, no outside area, completely constricted, less car parking and everything on the edge of a retail estate.

"The garden centre is in a more sustainable location where it is, rather than moving it across to the corner on Manchester Road.

"It's in a better setting, it's got better access, it's almost a semi-rural setting with the fields at the back."

According to the plans for the new garden centre, the council-owned Manchester Road site was the only suitable one in the area.

The application added that the move would bring Whitakers “closer to the town centre where it would continue to draw people, both local and from wider afield into Prescot, continue to support the local economy closer to the town centre, and furthermore to offer employment opportunities to some 18 employees, both existing and new from within the developing residential areas adjoining.”

It has not yet been revealed how much Whitakers has agreed to pay the council for the land.

Move would free up land for controversial housing project

If approved, the move will make way for a Taylor Wimpey housing development off Liverpool Road.

The controversial development would see 227 houses built on the current garden centre site and the surrounding fields, formerly designated as green belt.

Residents have objected to the loss of green space this would cause, while Prescot Town Council has complained about the submission of the planning application in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic.

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The town council said in a letter to Knowsley Council leader Graham Morgan: “The town council believe the timing of this application is likely to be seen in the eyes of many residents as opportunistic, taking advantage of social distancing restrictions to disenfranchise those who would otherwise make representation against the development.”

But both Knowsley Council and Taylor Wimpey have pointed to government guidance encouraging councils to continue with planning applications despite the pandemic.

Whitakers did not respond to a request for comment for this story.