Hare Hatch Sheeplands granted permission to expand on temporary basis

James Aldridge, Local Democracy Reporter

Hare Hatch Sheeplands owner to attend court as council seeks injunction to close down shops on-site

Rob Scott, owner of Hare Hatch Sheeplands

The owner of Hare Hatch Sheeplands has won a bid to expand activities at his garden centre and farm shop, but only temporarily.

Rob Scott had applied to use a greenhouse as an exhibition space, convert three plant glasshouses into an flower garden events area, and to continue use and expand a temporary sales area.

Mr Scott was seeking to run flower garden and horticultural events at Hare Hatch Sheeplands, which he had been given on a temporary basis until March 14, 2022.

He wanted to extend this activity into the future, arguing the impact of Brexit and the pandemic had taken a toll on business at the Sheeplands.

The plans had received support from neighbours, including former Prime Minister Theresa May, the area’s MP.

Mrs May wrote: “This business is a popular and highly appreciated small independent business that is much valued by the local community.

“The wider business is rebuilding, but in common with many other businesses this process has been significantly and materially compromised as a consequence of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“The effect of the pandemic has meant that Hare Hatch Sheeplands Nursery has not been able to benefit fully from the planning permissions granted for the current events use and the garden shop.

“I am advised that this has been particularly difficult during winter as the events and garden shop have not been able to support the business in the off season.

“Given the above information and the value Hare Hatch Sheeplands Nursery provides to the local community, I hope that Wokingham Borough Council will understand the need to support these applications in these difficult times.”

The plans, which were all approved subject to conditions, were split into three separate planning applications.

But Mr Scott did not get exactly what he wanted from the meeting, as he did not receive the amount of time he applied for.

He was seeking permission to extend business and events activity at Hare Hatch Sheeplands until March 2024. But this amount of time was considered inappropriate by the council’s planning officer Simon Taylor, who argued allowing activity until March 14, 2023 would be more appropriate.

Cllr Stephen Conway (Liberal Democrat, Twyford), disagreed, arguing that the applied for activity at the site should be allowed to continue until 2024 was defended Cllr Conway said: “It does seem to me a little ungenerous to decide that we’re only going to offer a one year extension, when its clear that the impact of this extends beyond a year.”

Cllr Conway proposed a motion to let the changes at Hare Hatch Sheeplands run until 2024 as Mr Scott had applied for. The motion was seconded by fellow Liberal Democrat Cllr Andrew Mickleburgh (Hawkedon) but no other councillors voted for it.

Planning at the site is complicated by the fact that it is greenbelt, which means any planning application on the land has to demonstrate ‘very special circumstances’ to be able to build on it.

In the end, six out of the seven councillors present in the chamber voted to approve the plans with the condition that activity there be granted until March 2023 only.

Cllr Conway abstained from voting, and Cllr Bill Soane (CON, Loddon) recused himself as his business provided refrigerators to the farm shop side of Hare Hatch Sheeplands prior to the pandemic.

The decision was made at Wokingham Borough Council’s planning committee meeting on Wednesday, August 11.

Mr Scott and Wokingham Borough Council’s planning department have a tumultous history.

The department had suspected Mr Scott of developing Hare Hatch Sheeplands without planning consent, in a dispute dating back to 2012.

Yet in 2019, Mr Scott and seven other business owners received a payout from Wokingham Borough Council after it was found that the department’s prosecution of ‘unlawful development’ at Hare Hatch Sheeplands was ‘flawed’.

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