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High Court rules in favour of council in Hare Hatch Sheeplands planning dispute

Businesses ‘illegally’ based at Hare Hatch Sheeplands have been given 10 weeks to leave after a High Court injunction upheld planning control on Tuesday.

Wokingham Borough Council has been trying to stop the illegal use of land at the site in what has been a complicated and challenging planning and legal dispute.

The High Court judgment handed down will allow the council to enforce action against the existing illegal uses at the site and prevent further breaches of planning law.

Hare Hatch Sheeplands has planning consent to operate a plant-growing nursery, a butchers, a coffee shop and a farm shop, with about 900 sq m of retail space combined, which is unaffected by the injunction.

The illegal uses of land at the site include an antique shop, hot tub sales, garden building sales, a garden furniture retailer, a children's play area, an unauthorised extension to the cafe, a pet food shop and an animal petting area.

“This is a difficult situation because we know there is local support for Hare Hatch Sheeplands and that some businesses on the site will be adversely affected by the judgment,” said Cllr Mark Ashwell (Con, Evendons), executive member for planning and regeneration at Wokingham Borough Council.

“But the truth is, while we’ve been seeking a compromise with the landowners in good faith, they’ve been using more and more greenbelt illegally.”

The injunction allows the landowner and other defendants 10 weeks to comply, which the sitting High Court judge, Karen Walden-Smith, described as a ‘generous period of time for the business to find alternative sites, particularly in these circumstances and with this lengthy background of non-compliance’.

The judge also ordered the landowner, named in court as Keith Robert Scott, to pay the council’s costs, with full details to be agreed, with an interim payment of £20,000 to be paid within 28 days.

In her ruling, Judge Walden-Smith said: “Even if there is a general and widespread support of this business, as I am told there is, that does not circumvent the need for planning control.”

However, although granting the injunction, the judge ordered the council to re-draft the document, saying ‘the injunction must be understandable’.

After the hearing, Sheeplands owner Rob Scott said: “The next step is for my legal team to view the reworded document and advise me on what action we can now take.

“I will not know what that is until we have all had a chance to get together and discuss the options.”

In April last year, a petition supporting Hare Hatch Sheeplands’ bid to remain open was rejected by Wokingham Borough Council, despite reaching more than 10,000 signatures.

In total more than 9,000 square metres of greenbelt has been used illegally at the site.

Cllr Ashwell added: “The greenbelt must be protected from harm caused by unauthorised activity even if some people support that activity.”

ILLEGAL businesses at Hare Hatch Sheeplands have been given 10 weeks to leave after a High Court injunction upheld planning control on Tuesday (February 21).

Wokingham Borough Council has been attempting to stop the illegal use of land at the site in what has been a complicated and challenging planning and legal dispute.

The High Court judgement handed down will allow the council to enforce action against the existing illegal uses at the site, and prevent further breaches of planning law.

Hare Hatch Sheeplands does have planning consent to operate a nursery (plant growing), butchers, coffee shop and farm shop with about 900 square metres of retail space combined which is unaffected by the injunction.

“This is a difficult situation because we know there is local support for Hare Hatch Sheeplands and that some businesses on the site will be adversely affected by the judgement,” said Cllr Mark Ashwell (Cons, Evedons), executive member for planning and regeneration.

“But the truth is, while we’ve been seeking a compromise with the landowners in good faith, they’ve been using more and more green belt illegally.”

The injunction allows the landowner and other defendants ten weeks to comply, which the sitting High Court Judge, Karen Walden-Smith described as a, “generous period of time for the business to find alternative sites, particularly in these circumstances and with this lengthy background of non-compliance.”

The judge also ordered defendant one (landowner Mr Keith Robert Scott) to pay the council’s costs, with full details to be agreed, with an interim payment of £20,000 to be paid within 28 days.

In her ruling, Judge Walden-Smith said: “Even if there is a general and widespread support of this business, as I am told there is, that does not circumvent the need for planning control.

However, although granting the injunction the judge ordered the council to re-draft the document saying “the injunction must be understandable.”

After the hearing Sheeplands owner Rob Scott said: “The next step is for my legal team to view the reworded document and advise me on what action we can now take.

“I will not know what that is until we have all had a chance to get together and discuss the options.”

In April last year a petition supporting Hare Hatch Sheepland’s bid to remain open was rejected by the council – despite reaching more than 10,000 signatures.

The long running saga even had the backing of Theresa May back in 2014 before she became Prime Minister.

Speaking at the time Mrs May said: "I am pleased a solution is in sight and this will allow Hare Hatch Sheeplands to continue operating whilst protecting the greenbelt."

In total more than 9,000 square metres of green belt has been being used illegally at the site.

Cllr Ashwell added: "The green belt must be protected from harm caused by unauthorised activity even if some people support that activity.”

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