MORE than 100 jobs are at risk after the owner of a garden centre admitted he may have to close
MORE than 100 jobs are at risk after the owner of a garden centre admitted he may have to close the business.
Rob Scott has been accused of 15 planning breaches at Hare Hatch Sheeplands, near Wargrave, by using the land to display and sell conservatories, using greenhouses to extend the café and children’s play area and having an events area and parking and storage of vehicles, plant and waste.
The unauthorised work was discovered by Wokingham Borough Council when he applied for a £2million renovation project last year.
Mr Scott appealed and agreed to demolish some of the unlawful buildings but the council insists that an enforcement hearing will take place next month.
“It appears that they are trying to drive us out of business and we just don’t know why,” said Mr Scott.
“If we lose the appeal, Sheeplands will no longer be viable as a business and we will be forced to close. That means 102 people will be out of work and customers from throughout the area will have fewer shopping options.
“Our suppliers will suffer, village organisations who make use of our facilities will suffer and the charities we support will suffer.
“How ironic that they are forcing us into this position when we are right in the middle of a stretch of the A4 known as the Floral Mile.”
Mr Scott, who recently celebrated 20 years at the centre, has been trying to gain consent for a change of use since 2003.
He said: “We have wasted vast amounts of time and spent money we cannot afford in carrying out surveys and producing reports required by the council. It’s almost as if the council has been trying to grind us into submission. Like all nurseries, garden centres and retailers, we are facing the worst recession in living memory.
“On top of that the garden industry is suffering the worst spring ever with sales of plants and garden products down by 50 per cent over the Easter period compared with last year. We are fighting to stay in business in very difficult circumstances and without this diversification we will not survive.”
Councillor Keith Baker, executive member for planning and highways, said: “It is is green belt land where this huge and unlawful expansion has occurred.
“The approved facilities occupy less 1,000 square metres but the unlawful facilities occupy nearly 10,000 square metres.
“The law does allow for certain development under extreme exceptional circumstances, however it is obviously down to the individual applying for that permission to demonstrate those circumstances.
“There is also the matter of the impact on others. There are several garden centres very close to Sheeplands which would also like to expand.”