Garden centre says council overreacted to complaints

A director of a garden centre involved in a planning dispute with Wokingham Borough Council claims the authority has failed to listen to hundreds of people who support the business.

Hare Hatch Sheeplands, near Wargrave, is accused of using green belt land without permission and faces legal action by the council.

The council has said it only acted after receiving complaints from the public.

But a Freedom of Information request made by the business has shown that just three complaints have been made against Hare Hatch Sheeplands since 2013.

In contrast, more than 200 letters supporting the business have been sent to the council since the enforcement action began while thousands more people signed a petition calling on the council to stop the action.

The council said it could not recognise a petition on a planning issue. Andy Dicks, retail operations director of Hare Hatch Sheeplands, said: ?Council leader Andy Couldrick has gone on record as saying the enforcement notice against us was issued as a direct result of complaints.

?Now it seems there were only three and the council can?t even tell us who made them.

?Why react in such dramatic fashion to so few complaints but reject hundreds of responses in favour of the site and a petition that has now gathered 11,000 signatures and is growing daily? Where?s the logic in that??

The garden centre has been the subject of enforcement action since 2012 when owner Rob Scott was first accused of expanding into the green belt and extending a café and play area. The council claims he has ignored the enforcement notice, leaving it with ?no choice? but to take legal action. Last month it went to the High Court in London to seek an order requiring Mr Scott to comply but the hearing was adjourned.

Meanwhile, a judicial review into the council?s refusal to grant planning permission for a petting farm and play area is due to take place and a separate appeal against the council?s decision not to grant a certificate of lawful use for the site will be held in September.

Mr Dicks claims the enforcement action could cause the business to close with the loss of more than 100 jobs.

He said: ?A flourishing and successful garden centre will be turned into a derelict, weed-infested wasteland with crumbling buildings creating an eyesore and a home for the rats.

?I would love to know what they expect to see on our site in a couple of years if they succeed in destroying such a successful business.

?Rob is determined to continue the fight for justice and to protect the future of his loyal staff and  customers.?

A council spokesman said: ?Over the last few years a number of people had commented that the council is being unreasonable in its action and suggested that it has ?double standards? in enforcing against Hare Hatch Sheeplands but not against other garden centres in the area.

?While the council has received a petition and emails supporting the retention of the business, it has also received complaints about the unauthorised nature of the site.

?We have a duty to uphold its policies and to enforce against unlawful development across the borough.

?As often is the case with planning- related issues, there are people who support development and those who do not.

?The council has to act as fairly as possible in line with national and local policy.?

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