Possible breakthrough in spat between council and Christmas Wonderland organisers

St John's Nursery Christmas Wonderland attraction

St John's Nursery Christmas Wonderland attraction - Credit: Archant

A way forwards may now be on the horizon in the ongoing row between Tendring District Council and St John’s Nursery, without the nursery being forced to shut down its popular Christmas Wonderland attraction.

Tom Bowden, owner of St John's Nursery, Clacton

Tom Bowden, owner of St John's Nursery, Clacton - Credit: Archant

In what could be seen as an early gesture of festive goodwill, the council has said that it “welcomes” the news that St John’s Nursery in Clacton will appeal the enforcement notice that the council issued over its Christmas Wonderland, as this paves the way forwards for a solution to the crisis.

Tendring councillors and nursery owner Tom Bowden first came to blows with each other last December over highway safety and traffic issues. The garden centre on Earls Hall Drive was forced to shut down temporarily before then winning a high court injunction enabling it to reopen.

The council served an enforcement notice on St John’s Nursery in Clacton last month, having issued a Planning Contravention Notice in July advising the nursery it was thought to be operating outside of its planning permission and requesting more information.

The council claims that the nursery said it would let them know of any plans they might have to hold a Christmas Wonderland this year, but failed to do so. But the nursery’s Christmas Wonderland director, Tom Bowden, argues this is “inaccurate.”

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“We stated that our Winter Wonderland would probably be operating this year during the last meeting with the Council’s Economic Development Officer and Planning Policy Manager in August,” he said.

The council say they received complaints from local residents in August that preparations were underway for the seasonal attraction. The current access route leading to the nursery is only wide enough for one car at a time, and the council claims that the extra traffic caused by people visiting the Wonderland attraction makes it a hazard.

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“The council was minded to approve an application from the business to improve the access road, but the nursery appealed before the decision was issued,” a council spokesperson explained. “However, the improvements put forward would not address bigger issues around access, such as widening or the junction with St John’s Road, and in any case the road is not within the company’s or council’s control.”

Fred Nicholls, TDC Cabinet Member for Corporate Enforcement, said that with no planning application coming forward or indication of a move to an alternative site, the authority had no choice but to issue an enforcement notice.

“Last year when a High Court judge turned down our application for a temporary injunction against the Winter Wonderland, he instructed all sides to work together to resolve the issues – and we have been doing just that,” Cllr Nicholls said.

“It is disappointing that we have got to this stage, and that the nursery is looking to put on a Christmas Wonderland despite warnings from us throughout the year that we would deem it in breach of planning permission.

“However, I welcome comments made in the local press by the nursery that it intends to appeal against our enforcement notice. This may seem unusual, but if the nursery appeals – and in effect therefore enters a planning application, which will be dealt with by a planning inspector – then a judgement can be made on this issue once and for all, and we can all draw a line under it.”

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