Officers and councillors at Wokingham Borough Council have been cleared of any maladministration or unprofessional conduct in an independent investigation into the council’s planning enforcement against Hare Hatch Sheeplands.
Experienced legal expert Richard Lingard, who has carried out some 40 investigations into alleged misconduct across the country, undertook the inquiry after some members of the public complained about the council’s handling of planning enforcement with the garden centre owned by Robert Scott.
One of the key allegations was that council officers or councillors induced Mr Scott to act against his own interests by withdrawing an appeal against a planning enforcement notice. However, Mr Lingard’s report concludes that, “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.”
He also said that suggestions of unprofessional conduct on the part of Wokingham Borough Council officers in this case are unfounded.
The borough council commissioned the investigation following a long-running set of legal cases concerning illegal development on green belt land at Hare hatch Sheeplands. The council has consistently and successfully sought to protect the area against unauthorised development and an injunction remains in place to prevent any commercial development on the site’s green belt.
“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 green belt, which we have now secured,” said executive member for planning and enforcement, Cllr Wayne Smith.
“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.”