WOKINGHAM Borough Council said it was disappointing to lose a High Court appeal over its long-running dispute with a Hare Hatch garden centre.
Last week, the Court of Appeal dismissed the Council’s appeal to overturn a Reading Crown Court decision from June last year that prevented further legal action for the past breaches of enforcement on the owner of the site, Rob Scott, and co-defendants.
Judge Angela Morris said that the council’s handling of the complex legal case had “only served to make a bad situation worse, especially where they had been in large part the authors of it”.
The council was also criticised for failing to inform Mr Scott and the others for two years that it would prosecute them.
“I regret to say that the approach adopted by Wokingham Borough Council was unfair and unjust,” Judge Morris said last year.
The case dates back several years and relates to Sheeplands expanding its nursery and farm shop business into becoming a garden centre with associated businesses including an antiques centre, a fishmonger and a double glazing business. These had been built on protected green belt land and, although Sheeplands had attempted to get appropriate planning permission, Wokingham Borough Council served enforcement notices, forcing the business to downscale.
It also sought to prosecute the businesses for trading there.
In the long battle between the council and Sheeplands, thousands of members of the public signed a petition of support of the Hare Hatch nursery, which led to a fiery council debate.
The High Court on Wednesday last week agreed with the initial rulings and threw out Wokingham Borough Council’s appeal. There is no grounds for any more legal action being taken against Sheeplands, which is now a nursery, farm shop and café.
But in a statement issued this morning, Wokingham Borough Council said that its success in defending the Green Belt from unauthorised development at Hare Hatch Sheeplands, and its determination to continue that protection, remain unchanged.
Executive member for planning Cllr Simon Weeks said: “The Council has been fighting for many years to successfully preserve the integrity of the Green Belt at Hare Hatch.
“That has not changed, and the Court of Appeal made it clear that the injunction protecting the land remains fully in place. While it is disappointing to have lost this case, the fact remains that there was unlawful development on Green Belt and we put a stop to it.”
In its statement, the Court said it understood the Council’s frustration at Mr Scott’s persistent and longstanding attempts to flout planning control. However, the Court considered that once other remedies had been successful, including the imposition of a suspended sentence of imprisonment on Mr Scott, the council ought to have further reviewed whether there was public interest in continuing to prosecute Mr Scott and the other defendants.
The Wokingham Paper has not yet seen the High Court judgment and the comments from the courts in this article come from releases issued by both Sheeplands and Wokingham Borough Council.
An exclusive interview with Rob Scott will appear in Thursday’s Wokingham Paper.