Monday, 18 December 2017

Planning row is ruining me, says garden centre boss

THE owner of a garden centre claims his business is being killed by council enforcement action.

THE owner of a garden centre claims his business is being killed by council enforcement action.

Rob Scott is involved in a dispute with Wokingham Borough Council over alleged unauthorised expansion at Hare Hatch Sheeplands in Bath Road.

The council says he has built on greenbelt land without permission and has served him with an enforcement notice.

An appeal hearing is due to take place having been postponed earlier this year.

Mr Scott says that if he loses, the garden will have to close with the loss of more than 100 jobs.

He has owned the site for 20 years and says he has transformed it.

“This site was derelict and a total eyesore when I bought it,” he said. “Buildings were on the point of collapse and it was infested with rats.

“If the council gets its way it will be like that all over again. They are killing the business when what we are doing is re-using a derelict site, bringing it back to life and providing a service the community clearly wants. We are also offering employment to local people.

“If the council is successful, then Sheeplands will close with the loss of around 100 jobs and damage to our suppliers, our customers and the charities we support.

“They seem terrified that as soon as I receive planning permission I am going to sell the land to a developer for a supermarket or block of flats but that’s simply not the case. I really don’t know how I can persuade them otherwise.” Mr Scott appealed against the council’s original enforcement notice and a hearing was scheduled for October but was cancelled when the council withdrew the notice and issued a new one due to what it called “further unauthorised development”.

A new date for the hearing has not yet been agreed but Mr Scott says messages of support must reach the planning inspector by Tuesday, November 12 or they will not be considered.

He said: “It’s a strange situation. Hundreds of our supporters turned up at the postponed appeal hearing and hundreds sent letters of support. None of that counts now. It’s as if it never happened.

“Even though we don’t yet have the new date — and we don’t think it will be before March next year — we have been told that mid-November is the last chance for people’s letters to be considered as part of that appeal.

“Why it has to be so early I don’t know, but those are the rules so as a matter of urgency we are now asking everyone who supports us to write a new letter or message.”

In a joint statement, John Halsall and Bob Pitts, who represent Wargrave on the council, said: “The nursery, over many years, has significantly expanded its operation away from horticulture and has encroached incrementally on to the greenbelt.

“The council received a planning application for the redevelopment of the site last year. In order to fully assess this planning application, officers conducted a planning history search of the site and a full assessment of the development and activities existing.

“In doing this, it transpired that the vast majority of activities and development did not have the benefit of planning permission. Consequently, the council did not support the redevelopment scheme as this proposed even greater development at the site and far greater than the authorised position.

“The site is in the greenbelt and the policy approach is to resist inappropriate development that compromises the openness of the greenbelt. The activities and development at the site contravene greenbelt policy and cause significant harm in planning terms.

“Officers have tried to negotiate with the owner of the site to see if a compromise can be reached to allow the site to continue to operate in a way that has a limited impact on the greenbelt but have been unable to find a compromise.

“There is recognition that the site serves the local area and employs a number of local people but this does not override the greenbelt policy objection and it is unfortunate that enforcement action is necessary and must continue.”

To give your views to the inspector, send an email to teamE1@pins.gsi.gov.uk or write to: Ms F Littler, the Planning Inspectorate, 3/23b Wing, Temple Quay, Bristol, BS1 6PN. All correspondence must quote the reference APP/X0360/C/13/2206131

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