Hare Hatch Sheeplands see ‘real prospect of a solution’ to council dispute

The owner of Hare Hatch Sheeplands (HHS) says a “real prospect of solution to the dispute” with the council is in sight as the parties will soon return to the negotiating table.

The garden centre has been arguing with Wokingham Borough Council since it was slapped with an enforcement notice for illegally expanding onto a green belt in 2012.

It has been ordered to close the children’s play area, petting farm, craft market and pet shop.

The garden centre’s owner Rob Scott now faces a legal battle at the Royal Courts of Justice on Friday, July 15 as he stands accused of failing to comply with the notice.

But Mr Scott insists an end to the bitter dispute could be in sight as the council’s chief executive Andy Couldrick has asked him to enter into negotiations.

Mr Scott said: “I am happy to accept the offer of talks. As a gesture of goodwill I have dropped my appeal against the judicial review decision in connection with recent detailed planning applications.

“That will save both the council and Sheeplands the cost of expensive litigation and if we can reach a satisfactory agreement it will save a great deal more money in future legal costs which would further diminish the financial resources of both parties.”

Mr Scott’s planning consultants have also written to the council to request a meeting so “pre-application discussions in relation to a comprehensive scheme” can be held.

The centre says it is looking to submit a planning application which, if approved, would allow owners to keep enough facilities open to “run a viable business.”

However, HHS has previously submitted two planning applications in a bid to counter the enforcement notice but they were rejected.

Mr Scott added: “This development brings about the real prospect of a solution to the dispute and we look forward to starting meaningful discussions just as soon as the council is ready.”

“He must comply with the current enforcement notices”

But Councillor Mark Ashwell, executive member for planning and regeneration, insists the council will not budge and the garden centre must comply with the enforcement notice.

He also says the appeal against the judicial review may not have been dropped as a gesture of goodwill.

Cllr Ashwell said: “We understand Mr Scott withdrew his application for a judicial review after the court found that his claim was unarguable.

“We offer a pre-planning application service advising people on their proposals, to give them a greater chance of being granted permission, and we would urge Mr Scott to use this for any future applications he may have for the site.

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