WHETHER Wokingham Borough Council had learnt any lessons from the high court battle with Hare Hatch Sheeplands was a question asked by member of the public Philip Meadowcroft.
At a full council meeting held on Thursday, January 23, he asked: “will the Leader of the Council please provide a precise and detailed list of the changes to WBC procedures and organisational structure which have now been made and are being implemented as a result of the collapse, before Reading Crown Court and endorsed by the Court of Appeal, of the Breach of Enforcement case against Hare Hatch Sheeplands?”
Cllr John Halsall, the leader of the council, said that the Lingard Review, which has been set up after the court case, was whether there was “a legitimate reason why the owner of the site should not be prosecuted for this under criminal law”.
He added: “The Council has been successful in all its action against Hare Hatch Sheeplands to
enforce against unlawful development in the greenbelt including securing a high court injunction to force compliance with the enforcement notice.
“The Council has adopted a robust approach to planning enforcement following the Silverster Review which I understand was instigated partly in response to your prolonged criticism that Council was not forceful enough in addressing breaches of planning control.
“I understand that you [Mr Meadowcroft] were involved in this review and endorsed its recommendations which were that the Council should to take a tougher stance against unlawful development in the Borough such that at Harehatch Sheeplands.
“Reading Crown Court, in considering the proceeds of crime application, found that WBC may have induced the site owner to withdraw the enforcement appeal, thereby acting to his prejudice in 2014.
“If this were the case, this would have constituted an abuse of process and therefore was a defence against prosecution.
“This issue was the basis of the independent Lingard review, which disagreed with the judgement concluding that ‘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’.”
He added that the council has implemented a new IT system to hold case records, given staff additional training and updated office advice notes and report templates.