Sunday, 24 June 2018

Council ‘doesn’t want deal’ over planning row

THE owner of a garden centre at the centre of a planning dispute says the business is still at risk

THE owner of a garden centre at the centre of a planning dispute says the business is still at risk of closure despite assurances from council chiefs.

Rob Scott claims that he is being “put through hoops” by Wokingham Borough Council over alleged planning breaches at Hare Hatch Sheeplands.

In 2012 the council served him with an enforcement notice for unauthorised expansion, saying he was using green belt land to display and sell conservatories and greenhouses and had extended the café and children’s play area.

Mr Scott said that if the enforcement action went ahead he would have to close the business with the loss of up to 100 jobs.

Two weeks ago, the Henley Standard reported that the council didn’t want the the garden centre to close because it played an “important role” in the community.

In a statement, the authority said it was “committed to finding a solution through negotiation with the owner”.

However, Mr Scott says that any solutions he has put forward have been rejected.

He said: “Wokingham Borough Council claims that it is committed to finding a solution to the planning dispute.

“Their dealings with us do not appear to reflect a genuine desire to reach such an agreement. At times it seems as if they are forcing us into a position where we will have no choice but to close down.

“We feel that we have been put through hoops by the council and are surprised and upset by its apparent inability to take the decision that will protect the future of this business without harming the green belt.”

The council first accused Mr Scott of 15 planning breaches in October 2012 after he submitted a planning application for a £2 million renovation of the centre, off London Road.

A hearing due to take place in October 2013 was postponed after the council withdrew the enforcement notice but it then issued a new one due to what it called “further unauthorised development”.

Mr Scott withdrew an appeal against the enforcement notice in April and submitted retrospective planning applications for the unauthorised buildings in July.

Last month, the council asked for further information on how the centre uses its land before deciding what action it should take on the planning breaches.

Mr Scott said: “We entered into negotiation with the borough council in early 2008 and at all times I have provided information in a timely fashion. In April last year we put forward a solution to the dispute which would have protected their planning position and allowed us to continue as a viable business.

“Since then we have been informed by the council that they have been too busy with major public inquiries to deal with our proposal and it was only on December 23 that we received a request for further information.

“The council has a formal application before it which it has so far failed to determine and it has clearly failed to address the application in an expeditious manner.”

Councillor John Kaiser, executive member for planning and highways, said: “The onus is on the owner to establish what is lawful and the council has worked with him to do this.

“Unfortunately, the information submitted so far is not adequate and, rather than refuse the current application, the council has provided more time for him to submit further information.

“If the council was forced to making a decision, as suggested by Mr Scott, this would result in the current application being refused and the enforcement notice having to be complied with.

“The council is giving the owner one last opportunity.”

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