A WARNING has been given that Sandbach could miss out on 200 jobs after controversial plans for a huge garden centre were thrown out.
Congleton Borough Council has refused planning permission for Sandbach Garden Centre on land off Congleton Road, after a campaign by angry residents and environmental groups.
Developers behind the scheme have warned they are likely to look elsewhere for a place for the futuristic 9,372 square-metre centre, which business leaders say could help regenerate the town.
John Holmes, director of Garden Park Investments, said: 'Sandbach definitely will be losing out. We are certainly very disappointed at the decision. We think it is a very good scheme for Sandbach.
'Sandbach is a market town which hasn't had a lot of investment for a number of years. This garden centre would represent a major boost in that way.
'We did look at other sites within the area before and after the application was submitted, but none were anywhere near as good, which obviously makes the chances of the scheme staying in Sandbach fairly slim.
'The issue that councillors were asked to decide on was to look after countryside, or plump for economic benefits.
'Obviously, they chose the countryside, but I think there is a huge difference between land sandwiched between a motorway and a built-up area, and genuine open countryside.
'We need to sit down and have a look at things. It is early days and we have a lot of talking to do. We have a right to an appeal but at first glance there is not a lot of scope to change the design. We have six months to work out a way forward.'
Business leaders were eager to welcome the garden centre, boasting a glass building, children's play area, a maze, central courtyard and sculpture garden.
Sandbach Chamber of Trade and Commerce has written two letters in support of the plan, which it believed would rival Bridgemere Garden World and Stapeley Water Gardens, attracting millions of visitors every year.
But environmental groups, 128 individuals and a petition signed by 233 residents all objected. They said it would ruin the local countryside and bring extra traffic.
The borough council's planning committee agreed, and unanimously voted to block the application, as more than 50 members of the public crowded into the council chamber to hear the debate.
Councillor Edwin Lea said: 'This development is in open countryside in direct contravention of the Local Plan. Remember that the local plan was drawn up after a considerable period of consultation to protect the people of this borough.
'If this venture fails we will be left with an industrial brownfield site which will be worth a lot of money as a prime site for housing development.
'They claim the land is of no value and state they cannot find another site but they have rejected the Junction 17 business park which already has planning permission.
'Once open countryside is gone you cannot get it back again.'