A POPULAR pet store which expanded into new premises with the help of £24,500 in regeneration funding has survived a threat of eviction from the council which supported its move.
The Animal Tracks business created several new jobs, doubled its floorspace and increased sales by relocating just 60 metres from a garden centre to a bigger unit on the North Seaton industrial estate in Ashington, Northumberland, in 2008.
The move was aided by grant funding and loans, including money from the Go Wansbeck agency which manages a £16m Government-backed drive to create and develop businesses in the former mining area.
Go Wansbeck’s funding is administered by Northumberland County Council, which supplied a business coach to help Animal Tracks develop and grow.
Several months ago it emerged the business was threatened with having to quit its new home or close down – after the same council’s planning department ruled it should not have been allowed to move there in the first place.
But now Helen Edwards and her partner Jason Seymour, who run the company, are ‘ecstatic’ after councillors rejected the advice of their planning officers and allowed them to stay where they are.
One councillor claimed he was ‘completely bemused’ by the planners’ stance, as the business had only moved a matter of yards.
Animal Tracks, which sells rare and unusual pets as well as supplies and accessories, expanded into its current premises in February 2008, after being based in the adjacent Shades of Green garden centre for five years. Yesterday Helen said: “We are ecstatic about the decision and it’s the best Christmas present ever.
“I am over the moon with the county councillors, but I do feel that justice has been done. It means we can now continue with our plans for the business after being in limbo because of the uncertainty over our future.
“We got £24,500 in external funding towards the £40,000 cost of the move, and at no time was the issue of planning permission ever raised by economic advisers employed by the council.”
Council planning officials said the business was operating unlawfully, as it never sought approval to change the use of its new Waterside Court unit from industrial to retail.
They recommended refusal of a retrospective application for consent, saying planning policy requires pet shops to be located in town centres, not on industrial estates.
They also argued that allowing the application would damage the vitality of Ashington town centre.
Ashington councillor Jimmy Sawyer told the county’s south east area planning committee: “These people got grants and were supported by the council to make this move and expand. They can’t find an alternative building in the town centre which is suitable for them, especially in terms of parking.
“In a recession we should be supporting employment, and this is a successful business which employs six people.”
Coun Barrie Crowther said: “They are trading only yards from where they were trading before. I am totally bemused by all this.”
Planning officer Philip McCarthy said the application should be refused as it was felt the applicants had failed to show they have properly assessed alternative premises closer to the town centre.