A GARDEN centre owner was stunned when he was told someone had complained about a novelty train within his grounds and he needed to apply for planning permission.

Plowman’s Garden and Nursery Centre in West Parley has had a Santa train running indoors at Christmas for around 10 years, raising money for charity.

But this year owner Vic Plowman has added a famous collection of eight classic American replica miniature trains to run outdoors.

The new trains were purchased through an auction from Dobwalls Adventure Park, near Liskeard in Cornwall, and have already attracted visitors from Plymouth, Kent and Reading.

Mr Plowman said the trains, running all year, with landscaped gardens, would represent an investment of about £3 million.

“There are 72 other garden centres that have trains attached to them throughout the country,” he said.

“What they are trying to say is I’m building a theme park. I’m not.

“I’m just a man who owns a garden centre, who loves trains, and I just want everyone in life to be happy.

“If I can create a bit of happiness, you will come back and you will buy your plants.”

Mike Hirsh, head of planning and building control at East Dorset District Council, said officers had met the owner on site and the railway needed planning permission for change of use from a garden centre to mixed use incorporating a tourist attraction.

“An application is now likely to be submitted,” he said.

“The site lies in the green belt and is accessed from a busy main road.”

The trains work alongside the Santa Specials trains, which run indoors and launched on Saturday.

West Parley Parish Council chairman Ron Dawe and Ferndown mayor Lesley Dedman were invited to bring 20 children with them for a free ride on the train, whose journey ends with a gift at Santa’s grotto.

The two councillors clashed last month when Cllr Dedman wore her ceremonial robes to an event in West Parley without prior permission.

Councillor Dawe declined to attend.

He told the Echo: “I do not see any point in having the chairmen of two different councils both there.

“If he wants Mrs Dedman to be there I would not come.”

Cllr Dedman said: “I was invited to take a crowd of Ferndown children, who had a wonderful time at the opening.

“And as Mr Plowman donates funds to charities from this event, I naturally supported it.”