OWNERS of a popular Northumberland pet store which is under threat of eviction by council planners have pledged a fight to the finish to protect their business.
Animal Tracks expanded into bigger premises last year with the help of thousands of pounds in regeneration funding, which is administered by the county council.
It was able to double its floorspace and create several new jobs by moving a short distance from a garden centre to a much bigger unit on Ashington’s North Seaton industrial estate.
But The Journal revealed last week how the business could be forced to quit its home of 18 months – after council planning officials ruled it should not have moved there in the first place.
Yesterday Helen Edwards, who runs Animal Tracks with her partner Jason Seymour, said the uncertainty over the future of the business was having a harmful effect on trade.
“It has been dead here recently and I think people have got the impression that we are closing down, or have already closed. The message I want to get out is that we are still very much here and open for business. We are not going away, we are going to fight this and we are not going to roll over.
“Until someone from the county council stands in front of my doors and says we can’t open, we will be continuing in business.
“It took them 15 months to do something about this, even though we moved less than 100 yards from where we used to be based.
“How on earth am I going to relocate this business on Ashington main street?”
The county council is a key partner in the Government-backed enterprise drive which helped fund Animal Tracks’ move.
The council also provided a business coach to help it develop and grow. Now County Hall planning officials say the business is operating unlawfully, as planning permission was never sought to change the use of its new premises on Waterside Court from industrial to retail.
The store, which sells rare and unusual pets as well as supplies and accessories, will be forced to relocate if its retrospective application for permission is refused. County councillors have deferred a decision until next month.
A report to the south east area planning committee said planning policy states pet shops are to be located in town centres, not on industrial estates. Allowing Animal Tracks to remain in the unit could affect the viability and vitality of Ashington town centre, it claims.