Hare Hatch Sheeplands wins right to debate planning dispute

The future of a garden centre involved in a planning dispute is set to be discussed by councillors following the presentation of a petition.

Hare Hatch Sheeplands, near Wargrave, is accused by Wokingham Borough Council of using green belt land without permission and has been facing enforcement action for four years.?Owner Rob Scott claims the action threatens the future of the business, which supports more than 100 jobs.

His supporters have been running a campaign to save Hare Hatch Sheeplands and in March presented a petition with more than 11,000 signatures to the council, demanding that the action was withdrawn.?However, the council refused to consider it, saying that it could not accept petitions on planning issues.

Now a second petition started by Mr Scott himself has been presented to the council.?It calls for an end to the saga on the grounds that it is costing him and council taxpayers ?ridiculous amounts of money?.

The petition has more than 4,800 signatures ? well above the minimum threshold of 1,500 needed for a council debate ? and because the demand is more general the issue will have to be discussed by councillors.

It was presented by Patrick Heather, a former chairman of the Twyford Village Partnership, to the council?s chief executive Andy Couldrick outside the council?s offices in Wokingham on Friday. Mr Heather was accompanied by several other supporters and customers, some of them wearing T-shirts with the slogan ?SOS: Save Our Sheeplands?.

He said: ?This shows that there?s a groundswell of support. There are some voices that are against but there is an overwhelming number in favour of letting Hare Hatch Sheeplands continue trading.?What most people don?t understand is why it has taken so long and why it seems to be impossible to arrive at a sensible outcome for both parties.?

Mr Scott said: ?As everyone knows, the council refused to consider our first petition. This second version, which collected more than 2,500 signatures in just a few weeks, has been produced with assistance from the council and we hope it will lead to a public debate.?

He has asked the council to hold the debate in a bigger venue closer to the garden centre, so that more supporters and members of the public will be able to attend.

When receiving the petition, Mr Couldrick told Mr Heather that it ?comfortably? passed the threshold necessary for a council debate.?The garden centre has been the subject of enforcement action since 2012 when Mr Scott was first accused of breaching the green belt and extending a caf? and play area.

The council says that he ignored the enforcement notice, leaving it with ?no choice? but to take legal action.
Mr Scott and seven businesses on the site have appealed against the notice and the case will be heard at the High Court on Thursday and Friday next week.

Last month, an appeal by Mr Scott against the council?s refusal to grant a certificate of lawful use was refused following a hearing.?Planning officers refused Mr Scott a certificate of lawful use for extensions at the centre because they say he was unable to provide evidence that the developments were ?established?, meaning they had been in use for 10 years or more.

Mr Scott argued that he had the proof but the council said it would not be able to grant the certificate while the enforcement action was being taken.?Planning inspector Bridget Campbell, who considered the appeal after receiving written representations from both sides, said she could not allow it as she was bound by a precedent stating that certificates could not be issued for a site which was the subject of an enforcement notice.

After the hearing, Mr Scott said he would considering appealing against the inspector?s decision.

A council spokesman said: ?We can confirm we have received a petition and are now checking to make sure it complies with the requirements in the constitution to trigger a debate at council. We are also exploring options on where to hold the meeting.?

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