Wokingham Borough Council heard today (21 February) the High Court has agreed that an injunction against the illegal green belt business at Hare Hatch Sheeplands is the only means to uphold planning control.
Since 2012, the borough council has been attempting to stop the illegal use of land at the site in what has been a complicated and challenging planning and legal dispute.
The High Court judgement now handed down will allow the council to enforce action against the existing illegal uses at the site, and prevent further breaches of planning law.
The illegal uses of land at the site 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
In total more than 9,000 square metres of green belt has been being used illegally at the site.
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.
“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 judgement,” said Cllr Mark Ashwell, executive member for planning and regeneration.
“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.”
The injunction allows the landowner and other defendants ten weeks to comply, which the sitting High Court Judge, Karen Walden-Smith described as a, “generous period of time for the business to find alternative sites, particularly in these circumstances and with this lengthy background of non-compliance.”
The judge also ordered defendant one (landowner Mr 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.
In her ruling, 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 Ashwell said: “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.”