Council issues enforcement notice to close new farm shop despite stating that it ‘would not require planning approval’.
Sidmouth owner Ian Barlow has had to seek legal advice over a dispute with his local planning department after the council ordered he close down the centre's new farm shop within the next two years.
Mr Barlow already had planning permission to extend the Devon-based garden centre and was under the impression that no further authorisation was needed for the additional oakframe building that houses the shop.
Mr Barlow decided to open the farm shop after organic food company Riverford approached him and offered guaranteed rent for the space.
He contacted the planning office to enquire about permission and received a reply from the planning officer, which stated: 'from my discussion with colleagues, a split 15% Riverford, 85% Sidmouth Garden Centre would not require planning approval. I hope the discussions with them go well and look forward to hearing from you in the future'.
The council have since contacted Mr Barlow, after the shop opened, to inform him that he is in breach of his planning consent and, last week issued an enforcement notice to close the shop.
"The expansion cost us £250,000", said Mr Barlow. "We spent £150,000 more than we would making sure the shop building looked particularly nice because of our plans with Riverford.
"Everything we did was based on these emails. There was no ambiguity there, especially when you've said, 'good luck in your negotiations'. It makes a mockery of the whole thing."
The district council has admitted that it made a mistake but that Sidmouth still cannot have planning consent for the shop.
Mr Barlow said: "The chief executive of the council is telling me if I apply for planning permission it will be looked on favourably but the head of planning is saying a firm 'no'.
"Either way, to apply for permission is like admitting that I've done something wrong. I appreciate that they are trying to protect the viability of the town but I have spoken to local businesses and, although we have been operating for six months, it hasn't affected their trade. All of my local councillors are on my side."
Mr Barlow is consulting with his solicitor but unless the council backs down, it appears that the only option is an appeal, which could cost the business up to £20,000.