Wednesday, 16 October 2019

Nursery owner unhappy at inquiry result

Nursery owner unhappy at inquiry result

THE owner of a plant nursery who was wrongly prosecuted in a planning dispute says he is disappointed after councillors and officers were cleared of wrongdoing.

Wokingham Borough Council took enforcement action against Hare Hatch Sheeplands for breaching the green belt and extending a café and play area unlawfully.

But there were claims of maladministration after a number of court cases in which judges were critical of the council’s conduct.

Last year, owner Rob Scott was awarded £68,000 from the council following its botched attempt to prosecute him after the Appeal Court ruled that he had no case to answer.

Mr Scott complained to the council in March that it had asked him to withdraw an appeal against the enforcement notice.

But last month an independent investigation carried out by Richard Lingard cleared the council of maladministration and unprofessional conduct.

Mr Lingard concluded: “The council did not, either through its elected members or its officers, induce Mr Scott (either by intentional design or default) to act to his detriment by withdrawing his appeal against an enforcement notice.”

Mr Scott said: “It is very disappointing. The council has kept me waiting a very long time for a reply to the formal complaint I made in March.

“The inquiry has stated that I was not induced to withdraw my appeal. I know that I was and the Reading Crown Court judge and three Court of Appeal judges agreed with me. The council’s report rather strangely appears to ignore the judges’ views.

“I can only hope that, despite this report, we can still develop a constructive relationship between the council and ourselves in order to benefit our local community.”

Councillor Wayne Smith, executive member for planning and enforcement, said: “There have been legal ups and downs during this long-running dispute over Hare Hatch Sheeplands’ attempt at unauthorised development but our overall objective has always been to protect the green belt, which we have now secured.

“We commissioned an independent investigation because we know some residents feel we have been heavy-handed at times but I’m delighted staff and councillors have been cleared of the serious allegations.

“There were some training needs identified and we’re already acting on them, but it’s clear from the report that the council acted in good faith to resolve these difficult issues in the best interests of the whole borough.”

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