Friday, 25 June 2021

Garden centre boss in new planning row with council

THE owner of a garden centre near Wargrave involved in a long-running planning dispute has criticised a decision not to allow him to expand the business.

Rob Scott applied to Wokingham Borough Council for permission to create new retail space at Hare Hatch Sheeplands.

However, the council has refused to consider the proposals due to ongoing legal action.

This comes only weeks after a five-year dispute over unlawful development at the site ended with Mr Scott receiving a two-month suspended prison sentence and being ordered to pay thousands of pounds in costs for contempt of court.

Mr Scott wants to convert part of a greenhouse and outside space in order to sell trees and shrubs, compost, bulbs and seeds as well as paraphernalia such as terracotta pots, canes and netting.

His application also asked for consent for the sale of Christmas trees and decorations and for a Santa’s grotto during the festive period.

It said: “The nursery business is currently rebuilding. However, this temporary application for a period of three years will enable the nursery business to continue trading while it restructures and allow sufficient time to review with the council the nursery requirements arising from that process, which may require planning applications.

“The three-year period is also necessary to ensure the requisite investment can be secured for the longer term.

“The application does not seek open retail and there is no intention to return to the previous unauthorised ‘concession’ retail use.

“Rather, the restricted nursery retail sales area proposed will relate directly to the wider use of the site as a horticultural nursery with plant sales.”

The application added that the nursery would need to expand, which would prevent redundancies.

Now Mr Scott has challenged the council’s decision not to consider it.

A Hare Hatch Sheeplands spokesman said the application was consistent with local and national policies but claimed the council had decided not to determine it using a provision of the Town and Country Planning Act.

The Act allows councils to decline to determine an application where the work for is the subject of an existing enforcement notice and prevents applicants delaying compliance with an enforcement notice through a cycle of planning applications.

Mr Scott and the owners of seven businesses formerly based at the garden centre are due for trial at Reading Crown Court in March having pleaded not guilty to charges of breaching enforcement notices in May.

The spokesman said: “Our solicitors advise us that the provision was not intended to be used as it was in this case. It is their view that the council’s decision was unlawful and the application should be considered on its merits.

“It is extremely disappointing that the borough council has acted in this way. We believe the decision is unjust but there is no right of appeal.”

The council said it couldn’t comment due to the ongoing legal action.

The previous dispute began in 2012 when the council accused Mr Scott of breaching the green belt and extending a café and play area unlawfully.

It insisted that Hare Hatch Sheeplands was only authorised to run as a plant nursery, café and farm shop but the other seven businesses, including a fishmonger, pet food store and antiques dealer, were operating from there.

When Mr Scott ignored an enforcement notice, the council took him to court and earlier this year the High Court ruled in favour of the council and granted an injunction against the garden centre.

The unauthorised businesses had to leave but not all the changes required by the council were made in time, including the demolition of buildings and the removal of utilities connections, leading to Mr Scott’s conviction.

⚫ The Hare Hatch Sheeplands site has been put forward as potential land for development in the draft Wokingham local plan, which proposes where new housing, business and leisure developments should take place over the next 20 years. More than 200 sites, including seven in Wargrave and five in Charvil, are being considered for inclusion in the plan but campaigners are fighting any development on green belt land.

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