Monday, 30 November 2020

8,500 support garden centre in planning row

MORE than 8,500 people have signed a petition calling for an end to enforcement action against Hare Hatch Sheeplands.

MORE than 8,500 people have signed a petition calling for an end to enforcement action against Hare Hatch Sheeplands.

Rob Scott, owner of the garden centre, is at loggerheads with Wokingham Borough Council, which has accused him of using green belt land without permission and extending a café and play area.

The petition will be presented at a council meeting on Thursday by Patrick Heather, former chairman of the Twyford Village Partnership.

The signatories include people from Henley, Wargrave, Reading, Bracknell and Maidenhead. Mr Scott said: “It shows the strength of feeling against the council’s actions and the depth of support for Sheeplands.”

He was first issued with an enforcement notice in 2012 and was forced to close the indoor play area at the garden centre and a petting farm next to it.

Now he is seeking a judicial review of the council’s refusal to consider two planning applications, one to re-open the petting farm and play area and another to relocate a pet food store.

Mr Scott and his agents Green Planning Studio claim the play area and petting farm would not contravene planning regulations.

They argue that outdoor recreational use is permitted as long as it “preserves the openness of the green belt”. A public inquiry to consider the council’s refusal to grant a certificate of lawfulness to the entire garden centre will be held at the council’s offices on September 6.

But Mr Scott claims that on February 29 — two days after the inquiry date was agreed — he received a letter from the council telling him to comply with the current enforcement notice within 14 days.

This includes ceasing the sale of plants not grown on the site, outdoor clothing and gifts including greetings cards.

Mr Scott refused, insisting the hearing in September would determine whether the centre’s operations were lawful.

“The council appears to have set itself up as judge and jury, finding me guilty before I have even had a chance to put my case at the inquiry,” he said. “It is the independent planning inspector who should decide the result of my appeal, not the council.”

He said it was also frustrating that the council’s chief executive Andy Couldrick had written to supporters of the garden centre indicating that he could apply for planning permission for a play area and pet farm.

John Kaiser, executive member for planning and highways at the council, said: “Since the previous enforcement notice officers have undertaken several site visits and the garden centre has failed to comply.

“The council has consistently requested that the owner complies and has written to him several times asking for a timetable for compliance but he has not provided one. He has also failed to attend interviews despite several requests.

“The council’s view is that the owner has failed to make any attempt to comply with the planning regulations and that the planning applications and planning appeal are an attempt to avoid the planning regulations and delay compliance with the notice. Failure to comply with an enforcement notice is a criminal offence.

“Unfortunately, the council considers that the time has come to take the next step towards compliance with the planning regulations. This involves action through the courts, which is due to be confirmed shortly.”

Cllr Kaiser said that on a recent site visit, council officers found more planning breaches including unauthorised sheds and summer houses, hot tubs and a marquee.

Last year, the council said it had no choice but to refuse Mr Scott a certificate of lawful use for extensions at the centre because he was unable to provide evidence that the developments were “established”, meaning they had been in use for 10 years or more.

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