the bitter fight between a Twyford garden centre and Wokingham Borough Council is raging on after it was revealed just three complaints had been made about a controversial expansion.
Hare Hatch Sheeplands has been embroiled in a dispute with Wokingham Borough Council since 2012. This is when it was slapped with an enforcement notice for illegally expanding onto a green belt.
The council is refusing to withdraw the notice and took the garden centre to court in May, for failing to comply.
However, the owners have refused to accept the decision and are now locked in a legal battle. They are hoping the council’s decision to refuse a certificate of lawful use will be overturned at a judicial review.
After recently discovering the council had only received three complaints about its green belt expansion, operations director Andy Dicks says the council’s concerted efforts are an overblown response.
But Councillor Mark Ashwell, executive member for planning, told a local news outlet the number of complaints was irrelevant. He added “the planning system does not act on the personal views of people”.
“A flourishing and successful garden centre will be turned into a derelict, weed infested wasteland”
Mr Dicks said said “Chief executive 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. At no point have they ever admitted there were only three.
“Why react in such dramatic fashion to so few complaints but reject hundreds of responses in favour of the site? A petition that has now gathered 11,000 signatures and is growing daily. Where’s the logic in that?”
He added: “What do they hope to achieve as a result of that?
“A flourishing and successful garden centre will be turned into a derelict, weed infested wasteland. crumbling buildings will create an eyesore and a home for the rats.
“The council will also cause 100 people to lose their jobs, several one-man businesses to relocate or close down completely, local suppliers to lose income and the community to lose a valuable asset.”
Council spending on legal fees
But the council, which has already spent more than £12,600 on legal fees relating to this lengthy dispute, says the number of complaints it has received is irrelevant.
“The number of letters of support or complaints is immaterial”
Cllr Mark Ashwell said “The number of letters of support or complaints is immaterial. Decisions are based on planning policy, which this unauthorised development contravenes.
“The decision to take planning enforcement action is also based on the harm caused by an unauthorised development.
“This case falls within the high priority category. It is also causing serious harm to public amenity from its adverse impact on the character of the Green Belt.
“The planning system does not act on the personal views of people, but in the public interest. It must be consistent in applying its rules and not cherry pick. People expect us to take action if someone flouts the law and does not comply with planning regulations.”
He added: “But if we can, as in this case, try and work with people to avoid enforcement action. But despite our best efforts, the situation was frustrated by the owner’s unwillingness to do so.”