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Garden centre forced to cancel Winter Wonderland plans after traffic nightmare

PUBLISHED: 08:14 19 September 2018 | UPDATED: 08:14 19 September 2018

St John's Plant Centre Clacton at Christmas

St John's Plant Centre Clacton at Christmas

Archant

Father Christmas might not be able to visit his garden centre grotto in Clacton this Christmas, because the centre has been told to stop trading.

St John's Plant Centre Clacton at ChristmasSt John's Plant Centre Clacton at Christmas

The fate of the Winter Wonderland attraction at St John’s Plant Centre is in doubt, after an enforcement notice was served to stop trading as a retail garden centre because poor access onto its adjoining drive leads to traffic chaos, and because it does not have the correct planning permission.

The site, in Earls Hall Drive, only has permission to operate as a wholesale outlet, selling horticultural and agricultural goods to trade customers.

The notice orders it to stop trading as a nursery, including retail, and its Winter Wonderland attraction.

The issue has been rearing its head since 2016, when the centre closed a small plant shop, which did not require planning consent, and opened a larger retail area selling non-horticultural products such as toys and gifts in its place.

Earls hall Drive, the road leading to St John's Plant CentreEarls hall Drive, the road leading to St John's Plant Centre

Talks have been ongoing with the business owners, Park View Nursery (Enfield) Ltd, since last Christmas, when Tendring District Council (TDC) issued a temporary stop notice against illegal trading.

The Winter Wonderland features a miniature train which takes children through a mystical grotto to meet Santa, and brings thousands of visitors to the area every year from across East Anglian and even from London.

But for some local residents of Clacton, Christmas this year won’t be the same without the centre’s popular Winter Wonderland.

Penny Mcmanamon, who has been going every year since it opened four years ago, said she thinks it’s an “awful shame.”

“There is nothing like this around for miles and it brings smiles on everyone’s faces,” said the retiree. “And as for the toys they sell there is nowhere local that has a selection like they have here.

“We have been going every year since it opened. We are elderly, but still love it. You can’t buy the look of awe on the children’s and parents faces. It will be a terrible shame to close it. And the plants in season are great too. People visit from all over and a lot then go into Clacton.

“In this day and climate the council should not be turning visitors away. They own the road it was built for traffic if it needs widening they should deal with it there are other ways out of Clacton so road could be avoided.”

But another Clacton resident, Tammi Warren, said she cannot feel sorry for the owners of the centre. “I know it’s a popular attraction but this is now the third year that I know of that they have flouted the rules. Any other business would not get any sympathy so why should they? It’s not like this would be a surprise!”

Fiorella Abbarchi’s message to the garden centre is: “Please, please keep the Christmas spirit.

“We would hate to see this go. My children love it, and so do all my little visitors.

“But bad on St Johns if they still haven’t learnt from last years dramas.”

Ms Abbarchi, who lives at the top end of Jaywick Lane, says she can totally understand the headache that the Winter Wonderland attraction causes for the traffic.

“I’d have hoped the Garden Centre would have worked out an efficient way of resolving last years issues.

“Years ago Jimmys Farm had problems. And they found a solution. Why can’t St John’s? It’s been a year. Christmas comes EVERY YEAR.

They obviously rely on the Christmas trade. So it should have priorities resolving the issue.”

Fred Nicholls, TDC Cabinet Member for Corporate Enforcement, said the law applied to all equally.

“We understand that the Winter Wonderland attraction is popular and we do not want to spoil people’s fun, but it is not fair on other businesses which work hard to comply with planning law – such as Clacton Pier’s Winter Wonderland,” Cllr Nicholls said.

“The access road is not suitable for such large numbers of vehicles, nor is the junction with St John’s Road – a major route into Clacton – able to cope. Last year we saw long queues, which also cause a blight for nearby residents.

“Any attraction on the scale it was last year would need a travel plan, a traffic survey, a retail survey, a sequential test as to why that location, and none of that has been provided to us.”

The enforcement notice allows 28 days before it comes into force, and then gives the nursery six weeks to wrap up unauthorised trade.

The management team at St John’s Garden Centre said they have no comment to make at this time.

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