Saturday, 21 July 2018

Owner vows to carry on planning fight

THE owner of Hare Hatch Sheeplands has pledged to fight on after his appeal against a decision not to grant the garden centre a certificate of lawful use was dismissed

THE owner of Hare Hatch Sheeplands has pledged to fight on after his appeal against a decision not to grant the garden centre a certificate of lawful use was dismissed.

The centre, near Wargrave, is accused by Wokingham Borough Council of using green belt land without permission.

It has been the subject of enforcement action since 2012 when owner Rob Scott was first accused of breaching the green belt and extending a cafe and play area.

Mr Scott and seven businesses on the site have appealed against the notice and the case will be heard at the High Court later this year.

On Tuesday, a public inquiry to hear a separate appeal by Mr Scott against the council’s refusal to grant a certificate of lawful use was held at Wokingham Borough Council’s offices in Shute End.

Planning officers have refused Mr Scott a certificate of lawful use for 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 says he has proof they have been in use that long but the council has said it could not grant the certificate anyway while the enforcement action is being taken.

Dozens of staff and customers of the centre attended the inquiry, some wearing T-shirts saying “SOS: Save Our Sheeplands”.

Mr Scott’s partner Andrea Burlingham, farm manager at the centre, arrived with the couple’s newborn twins Gus and Lucie.

However, supporters were unable to give evidence as inspector Bridget Campbell “pre-judged” the case based on written legal representations from both sides.

She said she could not allow the appeal as she was bound by a precedent stating that certificates could not be issued for a site which was the subject of an enforcement notice.

Mrs Campbell said: “I have to decide whether the decision of the council was well founded or not well founded. The impact on the community is not going to influence my decision.

“It’s quite unusual for an inspector to pre-judge a case before hearing evidence and I’m making this ruling on the basis of legal submissions made in writing before this inquiry opened.

“I believe the law is very clear. In my view this application cannot proceed as there is an enforcement notice in force.”

Saira Kabir Sheikh QC, for the council, indicated that the borough would seek costs from Mr Scott.

After the hearing, Mr Scott said: “Obviously I’m very disappointed. We’ve been waiting many years to get to an end point and that’s not going to come this week.

“I’m devastated for the staff because they are going to face further uncertainty. I’m determined that we will fight on because I think there’s a severe injustice occurring.

“The immediate impact is that we will be open for business as usual. We want the customers to know that and it’s only their support that has kept us going.

“The costs are massive on both sides and taxpayers’ money is being squandered.”

Mr Scott said he was considering an appeal against the inspector’s decision.

Councillor Mark Ashwell, executive member for planning and regeneration at the council, said: “This is a victory for common sense.

“We have been wanting to work with the centre and find a solution all the way along. We suggested routes they could take and we think they have been poorly advised. If they can get some good advice there might be room for manoeuvre.

“We are applying for costs and expect we will get them. We need to do that on behalf of the taypayer.”

The High Court hearing is due to take place in November.

Mr Scott claimed the action meant the business was in danger of shutting with the loss of more than 100 jobs.

The council insists that Mr Scott ignored the enforcement notice, leaving it with “no choice” but to take legal action.

It also rejected a 12,000-signature petition calling for the action to be dropped, saying it could not recognise petitions on planning matters.

A second petition already has more than 4,000 signatures.

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