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Council secures High Court injunction over use of Green Belt land by garden centre

A High Court judge has granted an injunction against a garden centre’s unlawful use of Green Belt land.

Since 2012, Wokingham Borough Council has been attempting to stop unlawful use of land at the Hare Hatch Sheeplands site, in what it described as “a complicated and challenging planning and legal dispute”.

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. This is unaffected by the injunction.

The council said the High Court judgment would allow it to enforce action against the existing unlawful uses at the site, and prevent further breaches of planning law.

These uses include:

  • An antique shop
  • Hot tub sales
  • Garden building sales
  • A garden furniture retailer
  • A children’s play area
  • An unauthorised extension to the café area
  • A pet food shop
  • An animal petting area

According to Wokingham, more than 9,000 square metres of Green Belt has been used unlawfully at the site.

The judge, Karen Walden-Smith, gave the landowner and other defendants ten weeks to comply.

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

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. The defendants have failed to comply with the enforcement notice over a number of years and, by additional businesses being brought on to the land while enforcement notice is in force, shows a clear and willful intention to breach planning control.

“The extent and degree of these breaches are such that there is substantial planning harm on Green Belt, which development has been continuing for years.”

Cllr Mark Ashwell, executive member for planning and regeneration at Wokingham, said: “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.

“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.”

Cllr Ashwell added: “This is not an action we have taken lightly. The judge’s decision is testament to our council’s resilience in the robust defence of our green belt. The green belt must be protected from harm caused by unauthorised activity even if some people support that activity.”

Hare Hatch Sheeplands acknowledged the judge’s granting of the injunction, but noted that she had ordered the council to redraft the document saying “the injunction must be understandable.”

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.”

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