A respectable local businessman has revealed the shock he felt when he realised he had become involved in a land deal with a jailed drug dealer.

And he declared: ‘I regret ever having got involved with these guys.’

Tony Joyner, who runs the Plants Galore nursery operation based in Newton Abbot, Exeter and Plymouth, had innocently leased part of his nursery site at Avonwick to Steven Loveridge – who has just been convicted of a major cannabis growing operation just down the road at Shaldon.

Loveridge is a partner in a recycling company which had applied for a highly controversial planning permission to site a waster transfer station on the site at Cockwells Nursery near the Blue Post Garage on the Totnes to Avonwick Road.

But Mr Joyner revealed that he had not even been told by Loveridge that he had submitted the waste transfer planning application for the Avonwick land he was only renting on a short term lease.

And the first he knew that Loveridge was on his way to jail was when he saw his face appear on a TV broadcast about the court hearing.

He revealed he had spoken to Loveridge just days before his court appearance when the 38-year-old told him he was going away to Portugal for a few weeks.

Instead Loveridge started a six year jail sentence after he was convicted of growing thousands of pounds worth of cannabis in a secret underground bunker.

Mr Joyner, who lives just outside Totnes near Harberton, said: ‘It was a bolt out of the blue. The first I knew was when his face flashed up on the TV.

‘I can update you on what is happening at Avonwick. We have changed the locks on the nursery and issued them with a Stop Notice and they are evicted,’ he said. ‘They don’t have a current lease and they will not be coming back on the site.

‘We have contacted Devon County Council to stop the planning application because we did not know one had been made and we had not signed an application as the land owner.’

A major earth moving operation had already been taking place on the site even though no planning permission had been granted.

Mr Joyner could now be faced with footing the bill for undoing the earth moving work that has already been done.

‘I have also contacted South Hams Council this morning to arrange a site meeting to discuss the situation,’ he said.

Mr Loveridge is a partner in Woody’s Eco Recycling Ltd which had applied for permission to site a waste transfer station on part of the 18 acre nursery site dealing with thousands of tonnes of used wood and plasterboard a year from the building industry.

Campaigners opposed to the project have set up their own protest web site and warned that the transfer station would blight the local countryside and mean dozens of extra lorries a week travelling through the already congested middle of Totnes.

Mr Joyner said his Plants Galore firm had ‘fantastic centres’ in Exeter, Newton Abbot and Plymouth and a large nursery in Yeovil. The Avonwick nursery site had been owned by the company since 1993 and ‘mothballed’ while expansion proposals went ahead at the other sites.

Mr Joyner said: ‘There are now issues to be resolved and I hope people understand that we have been as much taken for a ride as everyone else. I can’t tell you how shocked I was when I saw his face on TV.

‘He seemed a plausible character. I regret ever have got involved with these guys. I wish they had never contacted me and this had never happened.

‘There will never be a waste recycling centre on that site. Woody’s Eco Recycling will not have anything to do with our land from now on. It is dead in the water.’

South Hams Council leader John Tucker said he too had been shocked to learn from the TV that the man behind the Avonwick scheme was a convicted drug dealer.

And he said: ‘From what I understand there will be no waste transfer station going ahead on that site.’

Meanwhile a delighted Tim Vooght, one of the leading figures behind the opposition campaign, said: ‘I think that everyone is very pleased. It looks like this is being resolved now.

‘Obviously it has been quite a stressful time for the local community and the resident in that location.’

But he added: ‘whilst this is a small victory I think there is a wider problem of the industrialisation of the area surrounding Totnes and while we can breath a sigh of relief over this we need to be vigilant for additional projects being proposed.’