Inquiry rules against Hare Hatch Sheeplands in council dispute

Will Taylor

An inquiry into the council’s decision to not issue a certificate of lawful use for Hare Hatch Sheeplands ruled it was legally ‘well-founded’ on Tuesday.

Wokingham Borough Council wants to stop ‘unauthorised developments’ at the centre, which refers to extra businesses it says do not have permission to be there.

It is attempting to convince the High Court to grant an injunction against those businesses, which could cause them to wind up.

Several supporters and workers at the garden centre, in London Road, turned out to listen to the inquiry. They joined the owner, Rob Scott, and the owners of other businesses on the site, at the hearing at the council’s offices in Shute End, Wokingham.

But they left disappointed after the chartered town planner chairing the inquiry, Bridget Campbell, found in favour of the council before hearing any evidence from Sheeplands, basing her judgment on both parties’ written submissions.

She reached her conclusion that the decision not to issue a certificate was legally sound due to the presence of an enforcement notice.

A business owner from the centre and a customer were both prepared to speak in favour of it.

They were given an opportunity later to speak, but declined after Ms Campbell made her ruling clear.

She said: “It is quite unusual to have an inspector pre-judge a case.

“My remit was only whether the council’s decision was well founded or not well founded.

Delivering a verdict of ‘well-founded’, she added: “That is a matter of law.”

Mr Scott, who became a father to twins four weeks ago, said: “Obviously, I am disappointed. We have been waiting however many years to get to the end point and that is not going to happen this week.

“But I am determined that we will fight on.”

The council planned to make an application for costs, and discussing that and the ongoing court battle, he said: “We won’t be getting new toilets in the shops before Christmas, put it that way.”

The inquiry’s finding does not immediately change things as both parties await the outcome of the civil court case, though the inquiry’s findings could be used in court.

Sheeplands hoped Ms Campbell would rule it was not ‘well-founded’, and also determine whether some of the developments had been there for more than 10 years – which due to planning laws could prove important in the court case, currently scheduled to continue on Thursday, October 20.

Planning consultant Matthew Green, on behalf of Sheeplands, said planning lawfulness comes from the passage of time, not a certificate, and that if Ms Campbell did not assist with determining whether the ‘unauthorised developments’ had existed for over 10 years the case could continue in courts for five years.

He added the centre could be prepared to take it to up to the Supreme Court if necessary.

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