Closure threat for St Albans’ Gardens of the Rose
POPULAR gardens on the outskirts of the city could be lost forever after planning permission for a visitors car park was denied.
The charity-run Gardens of the Rose in Chiswell Green applied for a temporary car park in an adjoining field after reaching stalemate in a long-running dispute with neighbouring Butterfly World over the use of its car park, for which permission was granted by planners on the understanding that it would be shared by both attractions.
The Gardens of the Rose can currently use a field off Chiswell Green Lane for overflow parking for 28 days per annum and once that limit was reached earlier this year it was forced to close. It was hoping that the use could be extended allowing the gardens to reopen this month.
However, seven out of 10 councillors on the plans south committee voted against the application at a meeting on Monday on the advice of development control officer Alan Moorhouse, who said the car park would have a severe visual impact on the Green Belt and cause an unacceptable increase in traffic along Chiswell Green Lane, which the newly-created access road off Noke Lane and car park for Butterfly World was supposed to address.
He said that any organisational problems, financial agreements or management issues between Butterfly World and the Royal National Rose Society (RNRS) which owns the Gardens of the Rose were not planning matters and could not be considered as the very special circumstances needed to justify granting the application.
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But Bernadette Hillman, the solicitor for the Gardens of the Rose, told the meeting that without the temporary car park for a minimum of five years the attraction, which has a history dating back more than 50 years, would simply have to close down.
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She said that Butterfly World told RNRS in a letter last year that they would allow visitors to use the car park on the basis that there would be no allocated spaces and their rights of access could be moved or changed at any time.
This is despite a map handed out to Butterfly World visitors which clearly identifies a separate area of car parking for the Gardens of the Rose.
Ms Hillman said the offer made by Butterfly World was “unacceptable” and claimed that visitors who tried to use the car park were told that the Gardens of the Rose had closed when they had not.
John Bell of St Stephen Parish Council spoke fervently in favour of the application being granted and said he understood conditions imposed on the Gardens of the Rose by Butterfly World included a limit on any commercial activities such as its small cafe.
He continued: “The Rose Gardens has been accused of being naive in its dealings with Butterfly World during their involvement with the original planning applications and, subsequently since that time, over the use of joint access.
“However, we consider that this naivety, for want of a better word, was probably shared by us at the parish council as well as the planning authority and local residents when we thought by supporting such a scheme it would quickly solve the Chiswell Green Lane traffic problem once and for all.
“We certainly didn’t think that Butterfly World would take such a hard line with the Rose Gardens – after all, both enterprises complement each other in the fact that flowers need butterflies and butterflies need flowers.”
Cllr Eileen Harris said that there was nothing to stop visitors parking along Chiswell Green Lane and blocking passing bays in the absence of any off-road parking.
She added: “I really think using that field is perfectly suitable as it’s not particularly visible to a great range of people. No local residents have made any objections and I think that is very telling.”
But, while other councillors spoke of their sympathy for the Gardens of the Rose, they said they were unable to support the proposal and urged the two organisations to come to a resolution urgently.
After the meeting Ms Hillman said the decision left the RNRS unable to plan ahead, take group bookings and organise events – including weddings – in order to make the gardens economically viable.
She said it was disappointing given that the council had suggested the temporary car park as a course of action and she would be advising the RNRS to appeal the decision.