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Officers and councillors cleared of mismanagement or unprofessional misconduct over Hare Hatch Sheeplands

Councillors and officers at Wokingham Borough Council have been cleared by a legal expert of mismanagement or unprofessional conduct over planning enforcement at the plant nursery Hare Hatch Sheeplands.

Richard Lingard, who investigates alleged misconduct, was commissioned by the council to examine complaints made by members of the public about the council’s handling of enforcement at the nursery. 

One of the key allegations against council officers or councillors was that they induced Rob Scott, the owner of Hare Hatch Sheeplands, to act against his own interest and withdraw an appeal against a planning enforcement notice.

But Mr Lingard’s report concluded ‘that the council did not, either through its elected members or its officers, induce Mr Scott (either by intentional design or default) to act to his detriment by withdrawing his appeal against an enforcement notice’.

Mr Lingard also said the suggestions of unprofessional conduct from officers at Wokingham Borough Council were unfounded. 

His investigation was commissioned by the council following a set of long-running cases regarding unauthorised development on the greenbelt land at Hare Hatch Sheeplands, on London Road, near Twyford.

An injunction is still in place to prevent any commercial development on the site’s greenbelt. 

Cllr Wayne Smith, executive member for planning and enforcement at Wokingham Borough Council, said: “There have been legal ups and downs during this long-running dispute over Hare Hatch Sheeplands’ attempt at unauthorised development.

“But our overall objective has always been to protect the greenbelt, which we have now secured.

“We commissioned an independent investigation because we know some residents feel we have been heavy-handed at times but I’m delighted staff and councillors have been cleared of the serious allegations. 

“There were some training needs identified and we’re already acting on them, but it’s clear from the report that the council acted in good faith to resolve these difficult issues in the best interests of the whole borough.”

Rob Scott declined to comment until he has seen Mr Lingard’s full report.

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