Friday, 18 August 2017

Planning row garden centre 'in crisis'

THE owner of a garden centre involved in a dispute with council planners says the business is in crisis.

THE owner of a garden centre involved in a dispute with council planners says the business is in crisis.

Rob Scott claims a decision by Wokingham Borough Council to start enforcement action against Hare Hatch Sheeplands, near Wargrave, is ?vindictive and draconian?.

He says it could result in the garden centre closing with the loss of 100 jobs.

Mr Scott was first served with an enforcement notice for unauthorised expansion in 2012 when the council said he was using green belt land to display and sell conservatories and greenhouses and had extended the café and children?s play area.

He started a campaign to keep the business open and Home Secretary and Maidenhead MP Theresa May offering to broker a deal between the two sides. In January, the council insisted it wanted the business to stay open, saying it played an ?important role? in the community.

But last month planning officers said they were left with no choice but to refuse Mr Scott a certificate of lawful use for the extensions at the centre because he was unable to provide evidence that the developments were ?established?, meaning they had been in use for 10 years or more.

Mr Scott said: ?The enforcement notice the council has issued is vindictive and draconian. It will affect the entire local community, several charities, small local businesses and a number of young people who work for us and all existing staff.

?The council?s demands are so ludicrous that under the guise of protecting the green belt they intend to prevent us from selling even a packet of tomato seeds or a garden spade. I really wonder if the council planners have thought this through properly.?

Among the areas the garden centre will have to shut down are the children?s play area and a small farm. The business had to cancel its annual Santa?s grotto event last Christmas, which Mr Scott says would have raised thousands of pounds for charity.

He said: ?If the council gets its way we will be left with the shell of a business that is simply not financially viable, with the loss of all jobs and the return of the site to dereliction.

?I am not exaggerating when I say we have reached a crisis point which could have damaging effects on the community at large, our staff, suppliers and small local business, not to mention depriving our customers of a much-loved facility.?

Mr Scott said that dozens of his customers had written to the council in support of the garden centre and he had submitted a petition signed by more than 2,000 people.

He is now urging locals to support him again by protesting to the council. Mr Scott said: ?I am appalled that the council and councillors have completely disregarded the public support shown by thousands of local people. It is now essential that our supporters make their views known again. We still hope that the council will see sense and scale back some of the more extreme demands.?

Clare Lawrence, head of development management and regulatory services at the council, said: ?Mr Scott has been aware of the unauthorised nature of the activities and development at the site.

?Even while local councillors were trying to reach an agreement with him for the future of the business, he continued to expand the unauthorised development into new areas of the site and to extend the unauthorised uses with no regard for planning rules.

?Local people and representatives have shown support for the council?s action. The council has a clear mandate from its residents to challenge breaches of planning control and to prevent individuals from disregarding the planning rules.?

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