Monday, 23 July 2018

Garden centre seeks deal in row over green belt breach

THE owner of a garden centre facing legal action for planning breaches has appealed for the case to

THE owner of a garden centre facing legal action for planning breaches has appealed for the case to be dropped to avoid “spiralling” legal fees.

Rob Scott wants Wokingham Borough Council to withdraw its enforcement notice against Hare Hatch Sheeplands, near Wargrave, and reach a compromise with him.

He is accused of using green belt land without permission and is being taken to court by the council.

Mr Scott and seven businesses on the site have appealed against the notice but a High Court judge said that both sides need to provide more information before the case can proceed in September.

Sir Andrew Edis said evidence including details of a meeting between Mr Scott and councillors in March 2014, which led to him withdrawing his original appeal against the notice, was vital and should be heard in court ahead of a separate public inquiry, also due to take place in September.

Mr Scott said: “I will be providing this evidence of the agreement with the councillors immediately as the future of Hare Hatch Sheeplands depends on it.”

He urged the council’s chief executive Andy Couldrick to do likewise.

The garden centre has been the subject of enforcement action since 2012 when Mr Scott was first accused of breaching the green belt and extending a café and play area.

He claimed the action meant the business was in danger of shutting with the loss of more than 100 jobs but the council disagreed and turned down an appeal last year.

The council insists that Mr Scott ignored the enforcement notice, leaving it with “no choice” but to take legal action. It also rejected a 10,000-signature petition calling for the action to be dropped, saying it could not recognise petitions on planning matters.

Mr Scott says the centre has the backing of locals, including borough councillor John Halsall.

He said: “It was at Theresa May’s constituency meeting back in February 2014 that Councillor Halsall first became involved in trying to help Hare Hatch Sheeplands. He told me that the council would welcome a compromise that would avoid the cost of the impending public inquiry.

“However, the spiralling costs associated with further legal action will severely stretch the business and it would be so much easier for the council to stop the injunction process, withdraw the enforcement notice and start meaningful negotiations towards a compromise for the whole site.”

Earlier this month, Mr Scott accepted an offer made by Mr Couldrick to enter into fresh discussions over the future of the centre.

The offer was made in a letter to Mrs May, MP for Maidenhead, and repeated in Mr Couldrick’s response to a Hare Hatch Sheeplands supporter who wrote to him.

He said the council was “agreeable” to negotiations.

A council spokesman said the judge had adjourned a hearing earlier this month to allow it to respond to a late statement filed on behalf of Mr Scott.

“In addition, a number of late statements were received from third parties who have asked to be represented at the substantive hearing,” he said.

The public inquiry to hear an appeal by Mr Scott against the council’s refusal to grant a certificate of lawful use will be held in Shute End from September 6 to 8.

The council has previously said it could not grant the certificate while enforcement action was being taken.

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