Wednesday, 24 May 2017

Six businesses forced out of garden centre

SIX businesses have been forced to leave the site of a garden centre near Wargrave for being unlawful.

Hare Hatch Sheeplands had been the subject of enforcement action since 2012 when owner Rob Scott was first accused of breaching the green belt and extending a café and play area unlawfully.

Wokingham Borough Council said he only had planning permission to operate as a plant nursery, café and farm shop.

He did not have authority for seven other businesses on the site including a fishmonger, pet food store and antiques dealer.

The council said Mr Scott ignored an enforcement notice so it was forced to take legal action.

Mr Scott appealed but earlier this year the High Court ruled in favour of the council and granted an injunction against the garden centre.

This means it had to comply with the enforcement notice and cease any unlawful activities by May 1.

Granite Transformations, Bell Antiques, Quality Garden Buildings and Petstop have now left the site.

Deep End Pools has relocated to the nearby Wyevale garden centre while Garden Trends has requested more time to leave.

Paul Wheston, of Fish Glorious Fish, will move into the existing farm shop.

Mr Scott says the centre has been “streamlined” so now it sells only plants and gardening accessories but still has the farm shop, café, the fish shop and Jon Thorner’s Butchery.

The garden centre has stopped selling clothes, toys, games and cards and the lounge and garden area of the café has been closed.

Garden-related gifts have been moved to the farm shop. A play area, animal petting area and recreational farm had already been closed as they were unlawful.

An overflow car park has been planted with grass and could be turned into a wildflower meadow.

Mr Scott said: “We are returning to our core business and are now looking for support from the council in our efforts to remain financially viable.

“Meanwhile, our loyal customers have been wonderful by continuing to support us at the shop, café and nursery.”

He added that the changes meant some staff had been made redundant.

Mr Wheston said that he was now operating his business within a permitted area and it was “business as usual”. The High Court’s decision ended a long fight between Mr Scott and the council.

He had drawn support from his customers, who include Prime Minister and Maidenhead MP Theresa May. In 2014 she offered to broker a deal between the two sides.

Last year, more than 4,800 people signed a petition started by Mr Scott calling for an end to the dispute, arguing that it was costing him and the taxpayer “ridiculous” sums.

The petition prompted a debate at a council meeting in November, which heard that Mr Scott could face further legal action.

Councillor Mark Ashwell said the council had already spent more than £45,000 on the dispute and that Mr Scott could be prosecuted for not complying with the enforcement notice, so the council could then seek reimbursement using the Proceeds of Crime Act.

In September, a public inquiry refused a separate appeal by Mr Scott against the council’s refusal to grant a certificate of lawful use.

Last month, Mr Scott and the businesses pleaded not guilty to breaching the enforcement notice at Reading Magistrates’ Court.

The case will now be heard at Reading Crown Court on May 23.

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