The south-London garden centre, currently owned by the Prince's Trust, faces closure at the end of this month, with the lease now up for sale and reports that Pets at Home is the frontrunner in acquiring the site.
Residents and local businesses are up in arms about the potential future of the site, which is located near the historic Fulham Palace in Bishops Park, Fulham, and a petition has been signed by nearly 1,500 people opposing the deal. The petition, addressed to the Prince's Trust calls for the Trust to "reconsider the sale of Fulham Palace Garden Centre to Pets at Home and to grant local residents, and other interested parties, the opportunity to seek alternative bidders and sources of funding." It adds: "There is considerable local resistance to the change of use to a large retail outlet such as Pets at Home which is more in keeping with an out of town retail site and the whole process does not reflect well on The Prince's Trust".
Fulham Palace Garden Centre, which was set to celebrate its 30th anniversary next year, will close its doors on August 31, following the decision by the Trust to sell off its lease to raise further funds. The centre was founded in March 1985 when a young person was helped by youth charity Fairbridge to set up a gardening business. It was built and run at first by volunteers, with the aim of providing work and training opportunities for young people.
However, the business was then reorganised and redeveloped in order to compete with other garden centres and generate profits directly for the charity. Over the years it has undergone a number of developments, including a major refurbishment in January 2010, with all profits donated to Fairbridge, which works with disadvantaged young people aged 13-25. The Prince's Trust took over from Fairbridge in 2011 and succeeded in buying two-thirds of the garden centre's lease for more than £500,000 last year.
Local businesses and residents have grave reservations about a large retail outlet, such as Pets at Home, opening on the site, stating that it would not be in keeping with the area and one resident suggested the garden centre's planteria is likely to be tarmacked to make way for a car park.
One local resident who signed the petition against the proposal said: "The Garden Centre is part of the fabric of our community. It is where year after year, generations of residents go with their families to buy their Christmas trees, where year after year families look forward to the Springtime at the Garden Centre to congregate and chose their flowers for the coming summer... It is a special place, an oasis that residents have come to love and cherish. It is more than just a shop. How shameful to think of it as such. It is an inherent part of our neighbourhood. How can this even be considered? And how unbelievable that something as important as this, something so ingrained in our community has not even been overtly communicated to us, that we have not even been consulted in the least? Really shameful."
Another wrote: "The Garden Centre is a crucial part of the overall feel and experience of the Bishops Park area. It is very much deemed a local business and is an important part of the community here as well as fitting in well with its park/ residential surroundings. Commercial considerations are of course always important, however, there must be some responsibility taken for the impact which they may have. A pet superstore is not wanted by residents and will totally change the character of this much loved conservation area. Yes, they may well have been the highest bidder, but there are two things at play here:1. It has resulted in the removal of a much loved, sustainable business which produced employment for all the young and energetic staff that worked there, which I believe is a key objective of the Prince's Trust and 2. The replacement is simply not in keeping with the conservation area within which it will sit. Surrounding it will be people's allotments, a park, the historic Fulham Palace and of curse numerous children who ride their bikes up and down the adjoining roads. A pet superstore and car park is simply not a suitable replacement."
Read more in the August 22 issue of DIY Week