2013 - 31 August - Letter to customers re: new EN

31 August 2013

Dear friend,
 
I promised to keep our loyal customers and other supporters informed of any important developments in the planning dispute with Wokingham Borough Council (WBC) and I now have something new to tell you.
 
Last week the council withdrew the enforcement notice that they issued in October 2012. In its place they have issued a new and different enforcement notice.
 
This means that our appeal against the original notice will not be heard on October 8 2013 as agreed at the postponed planning inquiry in May, which many of you attended.
 
The new enforcement notice is even more draconian, with only a six month period for compliance unlike the 18 months in the original. It is also seeking to prevent us from selling plants that have not been grown here and all gardening products as well. It also specifically targets our play area again.
 
If upheld Hare Hatch Sheeplands would be forced to close and over 100 people would lose their jobs.
 
In addition Wokingham have taken the unusual step of issuing a press release for this week's newspapers. This statement from WBC is full of inaccuracies and utterly false statements.
 
I believe this may be an attempt to mislead the public and smear my business and it is an affront to my loyal staff and customers alike.
 
In their statement the council claims that the new enforcement notice was issued and the previous one cancelled because of further breaches occurring since the issue of the previous notice. This is absolutely not the case.
 
They quote the sale of building materials, barbecues, patio furniture and windows, all products that were for sale before October 2012. If indeed they did believe there were further breaches they could easily have amended the earlier enforcement notice and we could still have kept the October date for the public inquiry.
 
We firmly believe the real reason that they cancelled the previous enforcement notice was because it was riddled with mistakes and they wanted to have the opportunity to re-write their case against us having seen our own evidence first.
 
They claim that the business has developed over time in an unlawful manner without obtaining the necessary consents. I have been involved in numerous attempts over the last 10 years and more to gain these planning consents to allow this business to continue to survive and have consistently been stonewalled.
 
The council has prevented me from expanding my growing facilities to keep up with modern horticulture and forced me to become what we are. Even after the planning inspector allowed our farm shop and coffee shop and said we were now a garden centre and must be allowed to compete with other neighbouring businesses they refused to allow us anything. They have now gone back on their word that they accepted our plant and gardening sales and are attempting to enforce against that as well.
 
They claim that they have always tried to negotiate with me and will continue to do so. This is utter nonsense. I have jumped through hoops to accommodate their every request and they have continued to refuse to talk and offered no glimmer of compromise.
 
As if to emphasise their utter confusion about what they are doing they refer to us in their statement as Hare Hatch Garden Centre which is a completely different business. It is actually the garden centre on the other side of the A4!!
 
This further delay to a planning dispute which is now ten years old does not just affect customers. It also creates huge uncertainty for the business, harms our ability to generate the capital we urgently need to continue making meaningful improvements to Hare Hatch Sheeplands for the benefit of our customers.
 
We will of course appeal against the latest enforcement notice, so a new date for an appeal hearing will have to be set by the planning inspectorate. My best guess is that this will be for sometime early next year.
 
Your support in the past is greatly appreciated by everybody who works here as well as others such as the suppliers and concessionaires, for whom our continued success is so important.
 
We will of course keep you informed of progress and how you can help us when we have more information.
 
In the meantime please let Clare Lawrence head of development management and your local councillors and MP know what you think of the council’s statement in the newspapers and their actions. Clare’s e-mail is clare.lawrence@wokingham.gov.uk
 
It is vitally important that the thoughts of our customers and local taxpayers are made known to them.
 
Kindest regards
Rob & everyone at Hare Hatch Sheeplands