Sunday, 21 April 2019

Victory for garden centre in appeal over plant sales

Victory for garden centre in appeal over plant sales

THE owner of a garden centre who was involved in a five-year planning dispute says he is looking forward to rebuilding the business after being given permission for a plant sales area.

Rob Scott, of Hare Hatch Sheeplands, was granted three-year temporary consent by a planning inspector following an appeal.

This allows him to change the use of one of the greenhouses and a small outdoor area from plant growing to sales.

Wokingham Borough Council had refused to make a decison on the application for 18 months, so Mr Scott appealed.

The council had taken enforcement action against Mr Scott for unauthorised expansion into the green belt, which resulted in him receiving a two-month suspended prison sentence and being ordered to pay thousands of pounds for contempt of court.

A High Court injunction issued in 2017 prevented any further enforcement action but also prohibited any more unauthorised development at the site, so the council did not consider Mr Scott’s application.

But now planning inspector Ian Radcliffe has ruled that his plans should be permitted.

He said that while the items to be sold at the centre would mean a change of use there were special circumstances, including Mr Scott’s track record of working with schools and providing employment to young people.

Mr Radcliffe said the sales area would allow Sheeplands to compete with other garden centres selling to the public.

He also noted the amount of support in the community for the centre, including from Prime Minister and Maidenhead MP  Theresa May, who criticised alleged attempts by the council to close the business..

Mr Radcliffe said: “It is clear that the relationship between the main parties is difficult. In determining this appeal, however, I have reached my decision on the planning merits of the application before me.

“A considerable number of letters in support of the appeal and the business have been sent in. There have been no letters of objection.

“It is clear from the letters, and from those who spoke at the hearing, that the nursery is a popular, highly appreciated small independent business that is much valued by the local community.”

Mr Scott said: “We have always been very community minded and the community has been wonderful in offering us its full support. I cannot thank people enough. This has been a long time coming. We first put in an application that would allow us to sell Christmas trees and related items from the indoor location in 2017 but the council ‘declined to determine’ it.

“The inspector’s decision is a big step forward for us in our plans to rebuild Sheeplands in co-operation with Wokingham council. 

“It will enable us to sell plants, gardening tools and equipment, compost, fertilisers, lawn treatments, salt and other garden-related items.

“It is good news for us, our staff and our customers and is a welcome step forward for the business.”

Mr Scott and the owners of seven other businesses formerly based at the garden centre off Bath Road had been due to face trial after pleading not guilty to charges of breaching enforcement notices in May.

But in June a judge at Reading Crown Court ruled that the council had “induced” Mr Scott to withdraw his appeal against enforcement action and then chose to prosecute him.

Judge Angela Morris said this action was based on misleading information provided to Mr Scott when he withdrew his appeal in 2014. The ruling followed a five-year dispute over unlawful development at the site, which came to a head in July 2017 when Mr Scott was convicted of contempt.

The others were Alistair Mills, of Petstop, Paul Wheston, of Fish Glorious Fish, Nigel Timms, of Bell Antiques, Martin Sando, of Granite Transformation, Derek Chamberlain, of Quality Garden Buildings, Paul Woodhead, of Deep End Pools, and Gordon Parry, of Garden Trends. All have now been acquitted.

The original planning 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 were operating from there.

When Mr Scott ignored an enforcement notice, the council took him to court and 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, which led to Mr Scott’s conviction.

In February, the council rejected calls by oppostion leader Lindsay Ferris for an inquiry into its botched prosecution.

Councillor Ferris claimed the cost of the case to taxpayers could be more than £1 million.

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