The following press release on behalf of Woods of Berkhamsted may be of interest to local residents:
A popular independent garden centre faces being driven out of business because of the impact of competition from Waitrose supermarket.
Woods of Berkhamsted says the development of a stand-alone garden centre by the entrance to the supermarket in St John’s Wells – less than 100 yards from Woods – poses ‘an existential threat to our business’.
Pleas to senior managers at Waitrose to reduce their offering of bedding plants etc have fallen on deaf ears.
Now managers at Woods, which has stood in the High Street for almost 40 years, are lobbying Dacorum councillors and planning chiefs in a bid to get Waitrose to halt its ‘predatory’ approach.
Castle Ward councillor Stephen Claughton, who is taking up the case, said: ‘It would be a great pity if Woods were to cease trading in Berkhamsted, given that it has been such an important feature of the town for so long.’ Cllr Claughton is shortly due to meet Dacorum Borough Council officers to discuss the planning issues.
Woods Garden Centre managing director Colin Campbell-Preston said: ‘We have now reached the point where our business may no longer be viable.
‘The biggest problem is the huge competition from the unfair trading of horticultural goods and plants by Waitrose. This stand-alone garden centre, adjacent to our store, poses an existential threat to our business.
‘Woods is a proud member of the Berkhamsted community through the work we do with schools, charities, theatre groups, encouraging young and old to get involved in creating a beautiful and sustainable environment.
‘However after almost 40 years we may soon cease to exist. Apart from significant job losses, it would be very sad for the town to lose another independent retailer.’
Mr Campbell-Preston says Waitrose’s behaviour is counter to its own mission and values statement which claims to ‘contribute to the wellbeing of the communities where it operates.’
He added: ‘We believe that Waitrose, with its predatory approach, offers nothing to the local community, and is flying in the face of its own mission statement; and is certainly breaking the spirit of the law, if not the law itself.
‘We have tried on numerous occasions through dialogue and meetings to ask Waitrose to reduce their offering. Unfortunately, they have shown no willingness to compromise.’
The issue dates back to a planning application by Waitrose in February 2013. This proposal was for a small installation of fixed horticultural units on a site area of 4.60 sq metres at the front of their store. At the time, after advice from and discussions with officers from Dacorum Planning Department, Woods decided on balance not to object.
‘We wanted to maintain good relations with our neighbours and felt the proposals did not pose a serious threat to our business,’ said Mr Campbell-Preston. ‘Indeed it could be viewed as a help as it might stimulate visitors into buying horticultural goods and then visit us to get the complete basket of goods and plants.
‘However Waitrose have gradually increased their offering over the years through the use of a large number of metal trolleys outside the front of the store to create what is, pretty much, a complete garden centre offering.
‘At one recent count there were 15 trolleys on display outside the store containing bedding plants, less than 100 yards from our centre. It is the revenue from the seasonal sale of bedding plants such as these which enables us to provide an all year round offering at Woods. It is this loss of trade that threatens our existence.’
Waitrose claims it does not require planning permission for the trolleys as they are defined as ‘moveable structures’.
Mr Campbell-Preston said: ‘The fact that items are on moveable structures is surely irrelevant, they are there on, pretty much, a fixed time basis and as such they create a garden centre store.
‘We want Dacorum Borough Council to regulate the planning position, inform Waitrose that they have permission only to trade from the fixed pods in 4.60 sq metres outside their store, and ensures the rest of the items be withdrawn from sale.’
Woods Garden Centre is part of Capital Gardens, whose two other garden centres are flourishing while sales figures show Woods has struggled ever since the 2013 development of Waitrose’s rival offering.
Anyone wishing to support Woods can do so by signing this online petition.