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Royal Horticultural Society (RHS) looking to invest millions creating ‘urban garden’ in Stoke-on-Trent

The world-famous Royal Horticultural Society (RHS) is looking to invest millions of pounds creating a new ‘urban garden’ in Stoke-on-Trent.

Parkhall Country Park is in the running for the development, which would bring a major new visitor attraction to the city.

RHS officials visited the beauty spot this year and talks are continuing with Stoke-on-Trent City Council.

The RHS – which organises Chelsea Flower Show and runs the national Britain in Bloom contests – has drawn up the plans as part of a £100 million, 10-year expansion programme.

It wants to set up the garden in an urban site in the West Midlands or North West of the country.

City council deputy leader Abi Brown said: “If one of the world’s most respected horticultural organisations invests here it will attract thousands of visitors every year.

“This is a fabulous city and the big national decision-makers are finally waking up to our potential.”

The project would bring jobs and investment to the city, along with the expertise of the RHS.

The charity operates four gardens which between them receive around 1.7 million visitors a year.

Last year the RHS announced plans to establish two smaller urban gardens – ideally in the West Midlands and North West – as part of a £100 million decade-long investment programme.

Now Stoke-on-Trent City Council is in talks with the RHS to bring one of the urban gardens to the Potteries.

The RHS says the new urban gardens will build on its existing community outreach work, and give people who may not have their own green space the chance to experience horticulture.

RHS official Jim Gardiner said: “The beauty of the town or city is not important. It’s not necessarily about glamour, it’s about community.”

The RHS report says the success of these projects will also depend on local people, who will have a role in shaping and maintaining the gardens.

John Patino, executive principal of the Discovery Academy, which sits on the edge of Parkhall, says his pupils would benefit hugely from having an RHS garden. The academy has hosted a visit from RHS officials.

Mr Patino said: “We were contacted by the local authority and told about this really exciting proposal from the RHS. They were looking at setting up a new urban garden in Parkhall Country Park. The RHS wanted this garden to have an educational element and we were asked to host a visit.

“When I first heard about the idea for the urban garden I was blown away. This could lead to great career opportunities for young people. The Discovery Academy could specialise in horticulture and become a hub for schools across the wider area.

“This could be a multi-million pound investment in the area. It is a massive opportunity for Stoke-on-Trent.”

The RHS wants the urban gardens to be oases of natural beauty which also increase public knowledge and interest in horticulture. They will be ‘social spaces’ where people of all ages can learn about plants and gardening.

An RHS report states: “In urban environments many people don’t have access to their own private green space, so these gardens provide vital opportunities for people to experience horticulture and the benefits that plants can bring. The urban gardens will encourage engagement with nature, be beautiful spaces to enjoy with colourful plantings to provide a diversity of flowers for bees and other pollinators. But they will also be places to learn, grow food and celebrate the benefits that plants provide for everyone.”

It is not yet known how much the RHS will invest in each urban garden, or when a final decision on their locations will be made.

The city council’s previous dealings with the RHS saw the authority pay for two displays at the Chelsea Flower Show, the last of which, in 2014, cost taxpayers around £330,000.

Deputy leader Abi Brown said: “We are still in discussions with the RHS about its interest in the city as the location for one of its new national gardens. The RHS was massively impressed by the city and its community spirit. The fact the RHS have been so enthusiastic about Stoke-on-Trent is testament to how the far the city has come recently.”

Former council leader Mohammed Pervez was involved in the project before Labour’s election defeat and is backing the bid.

He said: “This can have huge benefits for Stoke-on-Trent in terms of the visitor economy.”

Community groups are also supporting the idea of an urban garden.

Pauline Rushton, chairman of Weston Coyney Residents’ Association, said: “We’ve been waiting for a new visitor centre at Parkhall since the last one burnt down, so I’d really welcome the RHS opening a garden here. It’s already an area of great natural beauty.”

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