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Closure-threatened community farm hailed a ‘hidden gem’ by families could yet be saved

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A closure-threatened community farm and much-loved attraction could yet be saved.

The Garden House, in Marple, is home to a host of animals and also features a cafe, forestry school and a picnic area.

But despite being hailed as a ‘hidden gem’ by families, the charity has been at the centre of a planning row with Stockport council since 2017.

READ MORE:

Teenager with special needs blocked from dream apprenticeship – because of a planning row

Planning permission was refused on the grounds the centre – near the village’s Roman Lakes – amounted to ‘inappropriate development in the green belt’.

The farm was ordered to close and dismantle and remove all buildings, save for the remains of the original Garden House.

Founder Kevin Swindells offered to work with the council but no compromise could be found and the matter was heading for a public inquiry.



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However, in an unexpected turn of events, the inquiry date has been put back to January next year following a productive meeting between Mr Swindells and town hall bosses.

Mr Swindells has now submitted a new planning application – now verified by the planning department – and the council says it hopes ‘this will obviate the need for the inquiry’.

He now has his fingers crossed for a happy ending after four years of locking horns with town hall bosses.



The Garden House, Marple

“I think they’re under a bit of pressure now to do the right thing, so I’m optimistic going forward,” said Mr Swindells.

He adds that the new application removes ‘certain aspects’ of the scheme, including removing an under-cover marquee, which he describes as ‘a great shame’ for visitors.

The new, part-retrospective proposal sets out plans for an ‘urban farm and educational facility’ together with the retention of buildings and structures, parking area and the construction of the Garden House.



The scheme also includes a a managers dwelling and new storage building.

Mr Swindells puts the personal cost of the dispute at around, £17,000. But he feels it will all be worth it should his vision for the site finally be secured.

“It would be absolutely fantastic,” he said.

“It’s been hard work by all the committee and trustees – I dare say I will have to take them all out for a meal! It’s been a long slog but hopefully we will get there.”

One of the hardest parts of the dispute for Mr Swindells was the council’s decision to stop Lewis Rhodes-Marshall – a special needs teenager with a love for animals – from taking up his ‘dream apprenticeship’ at The Garden House.

Town hall bosses ruled it was not an appropriate placement given the farm was operating in breach of planning controls.



Lewis Rhodes-Marshall working with the pigs at The Garden House, in Marple, Stockport

Mr Swindells says that ‘the first thing on the list will be getting Lewis’s apprenticeship sorted out’, should planning approval finally be granted.

He added: “There’s another lad volunteering at the minute. The difference in him in six weeks his dad said had been dramatic.”

Petitions online and on paper have attracted more than 26,000 signatures against the closure of The Garden House.

Mr Swindells understands a decision on the latest plans is due to be made by the council’s Marple area committee in November.

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