Monday, 25 June 2018

Garden centre owner attacks councillors over planning row

A GARDEN centre owner facing enforcement action for planning breaches has accused two councillors of making false claims about the

A GARDEN centre owner facing enforcement action for planning breaches has accused two councillors of making false claims about the business.

Rob Scott, who owns Hare Hatch Sheeplands, claims a leaflet they distributed to 350 homes in Ruscombe contains inaccuracies.

The four-page leaflet was issued by Conservative councillors Bob Pitts and John Halsall, who represent the Wargrave, Remenham and Ruscombe ward on Wokingham Borough Council.

The council plans to take enforcement action against Mr Scott for 17 planning breaches including using land to display and sell conservatories and greenhouses to extend the café and children’s play area and having an events area.

The leaflet says the council cannot approve applications for new businesses or expansion in green belt land and the garden centre has “developed beyond any existing planning consent”.

It also states council officers have tried to negotiate with Mr Scott to reach a compromise.

Cllr Pitts and Halsall add: “There is recognition that the site serves the local area and employs a number of local people but this does not override the green belt policy objection and it is unfortunate that enforcement action is necessary and must continue.” The unauthorised work was discovered by the council when Mr Scott applied for a £2million renovation project last year.

He appealed and agreed to demolish some of the unlawful buildings but the council insisted that an enforcement hearing should take place. It has been scheduled for October 8.

Mr Scott claims that if he loses the appeal his business may no longer be viable and he would be forced to close the garden centre, costing 102 jobs.

He said: “Our future is at stake yet neither of these two local councillors has accepted an invitation to visit us in order to get a more accurate understanding of the situation and help us find a mutually acceptable agreement.

“In addition we have just had another snub from council planning officials who rejected our offer of a meeting to negotiate the disputed planning issues.

“The leaflet issued by these two councillors totally misses the point over employment. They say they are not seeking to cause 100 people in the garden centre to lose their jobs.

“They don’t seem to understand that 100 people will lose their jobs if the council succeeds with its enforcement notices. How many times do we have to tell them?” Mr Scott claimed the two councillors had given the impression that the garden centre was encroaching on to the green belt by creating new buildings.

“The fact is that the vast majority of buildings on the site already have planning permission. It is only the use of those buildings that is in dispute,” he said.

“This site was derelict when a former partner and myself bought it and that’s what it will become once more if we cannot reach an amicable solution with the council.Issuing leaflets which contain inaccuracies and misleading statements does nothing at all to help resolve the situation.”

More than 100 customers of the garden centre gathered outside the council’s offices when the enforcement hearing began in May and was rescheduled.

Mr Scott said: “The actions of these councillors might be more understandable if they were supporting the views of the people they represent. Yet there is overwhelming evidence that local residents are very happy with the facilities and services we provide.”

Cllr Halsall insisted the leaflet was accurate and said he had declined an invitation to meet Mr Scott because he didn’t want to “further muddy the waters”.

“He needs to talk to the planning officers,” he said. “The most important issue in this ward is the green belt and the protection of it.”

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