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Charity-run garden centre celebrates as council blocks private Xmas tree stand

Pines And Needles had offered donations to Camden Society and Friends Of Fortune Green

25 October, 2018 — By William McLennan

Trees at the Mill Lane Garden Centre last year

A CHRISTMAS tree firm has been told it cannot trade in a public park after residents raised fears it would take vital business away from a charity-run garden centre that is staffed by disabled employees.

Pines and Needles, which operates from more than 20 sites across London, had applied to Camden Council for a licence to trade from Fortune Green, as it did last year.

But the Town Hall turned them down this week after hundreds of residents signed a petition expressing fears that Pines and Needles would compete with nearby Mill Lane Garden Centre, which employs people who might otherwise struggle in the workplace.

The Camden Society, which runs the garden centre, said it saw sales drop by around 25 per cent last year after the private firm were allowed to open a stall a few hundred metres away.

Denise Largin, chief executive of the Camden Society, said: “This is like getting a great big early Christmas hug from our local community. It feels amazing.”

Ms Largin said Pines and Needles made an offer to resolve the situation last Thursday, but she added: “It was far too late for this year because we have already bought our trees and done our financial planning.”

Natasha Back, who was one of those to rally community opposition to Pines and Needles, said: “We are really happy. It feels like Christmas has come early. It’s really nice to know that our voices have been heard and the council has listened to residents’ concerns and something has been done about it for once.”

Cabinet councillor Jonathan Simpson said: “Following conversation with the local community, after concerns were raised, it was jointly agreed with the company that they would not trade at this location in 2018. We will always ensure that steps are taken to minimise the impact of any commercial activity on council land and that local residents and stakeholders have had an opportunity to comment on these requests.”

Pines and Needles founders, Josh and Sam Lyle, said in a statement that they had offered “employment training mentoring” for the Camden Society and a financial contribution of more than £30,000 over a five-year period, as well as a donation to the Friends of Fortune Green.

They said they had hoped the decision would be reconsidered, adding: “With over 70 per cent of our sales coming from outside the local ward, our brand and presence clearly drive new custom to the area, benefiting not only local business but also employing local people.”

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