A popular garden centre in Hare Hatch is fighting to remain in business, and has launched a second petition after being threatened with closure.
Hare Hatch Sheeplands has been locked in a bitter dispute with Wokingham Borough Council since 2012 when it was slapped with an enforcement notice for illegally expanding onto a green belt.
Since it was ordered to close down several facilities the garden centre’s owners have spent four years and they say around £400,000 on an unsuccessful campaign which implores the council to withdraw the enforcement notice.
Thousands of Hare Hatch Sheeplands supporters have already signed a petition against the notice, but the council snubbed it earlier this year, stating: “petitions which refer to ‘any matter relating to a planning decision’ cannot be accepted”.
However, the centre is now rallying support for its new petition, which the owner’s carefully reworded after receiving some “very helpful advice” from the council.
It read: “We request, in the strongest possible terms, that Wokingham Borough Council does everything it can to ensure that Hare Hatch Sheeplands continues to operate as a financially viable enterprise.”
It continued: “We ask the council to ensure this valuable asset remains in business and that the benefits it brings are not lost to us forever.”
Owner Rob Scott claims it gathered more than 1,500 written and online signatures in the first 48 hours. He is looking to submit it to the council within the next few weeks.
He said: “I am pleased to say that this time round we have received some very helpful advice from the council. That advice is reflected in the wording of the latest petition. People are going online to sign and customers are signing a paper version which is available at Sheeplands. It comes as no surprise to me that we captured so many signatures in such a short space of time and the total grows almost by the hour. It shows the huge strength of feeling among our customers and the many community organisations that use us as a base.”
He added: “I am certain the council already recognises the strength of feeling among the community who continue to demonstrate how much they want us to stay in business. We remain committed to reaching a mutually acceptable solution to the current planning issue which would have the added benefit of saving both the council and ourselves thousands of pounds in legal costs.”
The centre’s owners recently appeared at the Royal Courts of Justice, accused of failing to comply with the enforcement notice.
But according to Hare Hatch Sheeplands the case has been adjourned to a later date.
The council’s response
A Wokingham Borough Council spokeswoman said: “The borough council has not received a petition concerning Hare Hatch Sheeplands. Any person who lives, works or studies within the borough can sign or organise a petition. They are dealt with according to the council’s constitution and its monitoring officer, or his or her representative, will make the decision as to whether a petition is accepted or not.”
She added: “In order for a petition to be accepted it has to meet certain criteria including a minimum number of signatories; and the matter must not relate to a planning or licensing decision. It must also not be the same or substantially the same as a petition that has been received in the last six months. Once a petition has been submitted and accepted, the council will write to the petition organiser setting out how it will be dealt with.”
Article source – http://www.getreading.co.uk/news/reading-berkshire-news/hare-hatch-sheeplands-launch-another-11717788