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Gearing up for inquiry

CAMPAIGNERS have drawn up a battle plan to fight a controversial relocation bid by an award-winning garden centre.

Redfields in Church Crookham wants to move to a new site off the A287 in Crondall.

Hart Council threw out the plan last summer but bosses at the centre — crowned the best in Britain three years ago by the Garden Centre Association — have appealed.

The development battle will now be thrashed out before a government planning inspector during a four-day public inquiry at Hart Council's Fleet headquarters on July 30.

Residents opposing the garden centre move are confident of success and have set up their own action group to fight their case at the crunch inquiry.

Robin Collet has been elected chairman of BRAG — Bowenhurst Redfields Action Group.

Mr Collet is chairman of the Crondall Society and the former chairman of the Bowenhurst Action Group, which was instrumental in fighting plans for a massive tennis centre on fields next to the Plough Garage on the other side of the A287.

"The planned development will cover 7,000 square metres with provision for more than 500 car park spaces," said Mr Collet.

"Local residents have raised concerns about the huge increase in local traffic on rural roads and the busy A287 and the substantial noise and light pollution in a rural area.

"The planned development will effectively erode the essential gaps between rural villages and there are fears that it will be used as a precedent for further building along the A287."

BRAG is supported by the parish councils of Crondall, Crookham Village and Dogmersfield, along with the Crookham Village Association, the Crondall Society, Fleet and Crookham Civic Society and the Hart and Rushmoor group of the Council for the Protection of Rural England.

"BRAG has engaged a barrister to appear at the appeal to ensure that all issues local people want to raise are presented properly to the inspector," said Mr Collet.

"As part of its efforts to ensure that it fully covers all these issues, BRAG has arranged, with the help of its supporters, to drop leaflets into more than 1,500 houses in the area.

"This gives full information on the proposals and invites people to give BRAG any comments to be taken into account in its evidence to the inquiry."

Redfields' plans to build new premises on the former landfill site in Bowling Alley, Crondall, were thrown out by Hart's development control committee last June — despite an officer's recommendation to give it the green light.

Plans for the 15-acre site include a garden centre, coffee shop, production nursery with horticultural glasshouses, outdoor plant sales area and manager's house, plus parking for 477 customers, 47 staff and five delivery lorries.

Former Crondall Parish Council chairman Jennifer Kelly led the call for the application to be refused.

Speaking on behalf of three parish councils and six residents' associations and civic societies, she said the scheme was against local and national planning policies, would ruin the green gap between settlements and lead to traffic chaos on surrounding roads.

Chris Primett, speaking on behalf of Redfields, said the garden centre wanted to leave its current site in Redfields Lane, Church Crookham, due to future industrial plans for surrounding land.

He said the Bowling Alley site was the ninth the company had considered in the last five years.

Mr Primett said the majority of the site was of low ecological value and the plans included planting new hedgerows and creating wildlife meadows and woodland areas.

And he warned councillors: "If this application fails the applicant does not know what else to offer or what the future holds.

"It might have to relocate outside the district or close down altogether."

But Mr Collet warned that if the application went ahead it would ruin the important green gap between Crondall, Crookham Village and Fleet.

"Who wishes to be the ‘SW17' of Fleet?" he said.

"We are very concerned about the effects of relocation of what is essentially a major retail outlet into a rural community."


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