Garden Centre wants to open café earlier in the morning

The garden centre's entrance (photo from Google Maps Street View)
The garden centre's entrance (photo from Google Maps Street View)

A garden centre’s bid to extend its café opening times by one hour has been met with criticism from parish councillors.

The Staplecross Shrub Centre is seeking permission to vary conditions on its railway car café’s opening hours, allowing it to open at 8am instead of 9am.

Its application is due to be discussed by Rother District Council’s planning committee next Thursday (April 18).

The garden centre’s owners say the change would: bring the café’s opening hours in line with those of the main business (which opens as early as 7am); mitigate against earlier winter closing times; and better compete with other garden centres nearby.

However the application is strongly opposed by Ewhurst Parish Council as well as two neighbours living near the site.

The root of the dispute goes back to 2016,  when an earlier application sought to extend the café’s opening times to between 9am and 11pm each day.

The application was refused by planners but taken to appeal, resulting in opening hours being set at 9am to 6pm by a planning inspector.

Ewhurst Parish Council argues this appeal decision should be respected as the inspector took into account the potential disturbance to the garden centre’s neighbours at the time.

In its submission, a statement from the parish council said: “The inspector took the view that opening between these times would not result in harm to the character and appearance of the area .

“[Opening between these times] would not lead to any material increase in noise and disturbance to surrounding residents because this period would be considered to be part of a normal working day.

“He did not indicate that he would support the opening of the café any earlier than 9am.”

Neighbours have put forward similar objections, although they have also raised concerns about light pollution and say the earlier opening hours would ‘harm the character of the area’.

Despite these concerns, Rother planning officers are recommending the proposed opening hours be approved.

Planning officers say the inspector had not ruled out opening before 9am as this was not part of the conditions sought at appeal.

In a report to be considered by the planning committee, a planning officer said: “Given that this time (8am) can reasonably be considered by many to be part of the working day, it is considered the appeal inspector’s previous reasoning can be applied.

“As a result, there would be no adverse harm caused to the character and appearance of the area, or neighbouring amenities.”

A decision is expected to be made at a meeting of the planning committee on Thursday, April 18.