Garden center for sale but the owners say they prefer an investor

A GARDEN center near Wargrave is for sale.

But the owners of Hare Hatch Sheeplands say they would rather find a local investor in the business than get rid of it.

Andy Dicks and Rob Scott have planning permission to redevelop the site off the A4 London Road at a cost of £5million.

They plan to demolish more than half of the aging greenhouses and replace some with vegetable gardens, a recreation ground and an outdoor playground.

Planning consent was approved by Wokingham Borough Council in March following a long-running dispute over unauthorized development on the 8.88-acre site.

However, since then, the owners have struggled to start work.

Mr Dicks said: “The Russian-Ukrainian situation kicked off and we had a problem with building materials, builders…all the prices went through the roof.

“We were gutted – we thought we were going to go – but on the bright side we got planning permission. All we need is investment.

“We are looking for a wealthy investor from Henley or Wargrave, someone who wants a reasonable return on investment. It’s better than putting a million in the bank where you get next to nothing.

In the meantime, the company is in the market with licensed surveyors Quinton Edwards. The online listing says: “[It is] one of the best located garden center sites to have been on the market for many years.

“The garden center benefits from 155m frontage on the A4 between Reading and Maidenhead, near Henley and in a very affluent area.

“A new state-of-the-art planning permission has been granted which will enable the creation of a stunning destination garden center and take the already successful business forward.

“This is an excellent opportunity to purchase a commercial garden center and develop new modern facilities.”

Mr Dicks said: “We’re being realistic – if Joe Bloggs walks in the door and says, ‘We’ll give you £5million’, we’ll have to think about it.

“In the context of Russia-Ukraine and the increase in gas and electricity prices, it is necessary to explore all avenues to remain

“Selling is the very last option and the very last thing we would want to happen. We want investors. We want to deliver the garden center that we have fought for for 12 years or more.

“We have had massive support from our loyal customers and we want to deliver the garden center they wanted. This plan is the life’s work of Rob, an eco-friendly garden center with community facilities.

“If we don’t get a deal, we will batten down the hatches, continue with the farm shop, cafe and garden center as they are and fund the projects with future profits. It should be over a longer period – 10 years, not three. »

According to the owners’ plans, the garden center building would be rebuilt on part of the land where a greenhouse currently stands.

They also want to create a forest with up to 100 paulownia trees, which grow quickly and absorb large amounts of carbon dioxide. They are deciduous and non-native trees.

The owners say they would “green” the site by improving biodiversity, capturing carbon dioxide and providing local food production as well as providing opportunities for charities.

In 2020, the company ended a seven-year dispute with the borough council over illegal development at the site, located in the green belt.

It started in 2012 when the council accused Mr Scott of breaching the green belt and illegally extending the cafe and playground.

He insisted Hare Hatch Sheeplands was only licensed to operate as a plant nursery, cafe and farm shop, but seven other businesses operated from there. When Mr. Scott ignored an enforcement notice, the board sued him. The High Court ruled in favor of the council and granted an injunction against the garden centre.

Unlicensed businesses had to leave, but not all of the changes required by the council were made in time, including the demolition of buildings, which led to Mr Scott being sentenced to a two-month suspended prison sentence and ordered to pay thousands of pounds for contempt to be sought.

But in 2018 a judge at Reading Crown Court said the council had ‘offended the court’s sense of justice’ by prosecuting Mr Scott for breaching an enforcement notice after convincing him to drop an appeal.

The board appealed, but in 2019 the Court of Appeal upheld the judge’s decision and ruled that Mr Scott and the other business owners had no case to answer, saying the board’s decision to to prosecute had not been properly considered.

The companies then received £68,000 in fees from the council.

The case is estimated to have cost taxpayers over £1million.

The council rejected a request for an investigation into the botched prosecution, saying it would not apologize for shielding the green belt, and an independent inquiry cleared the council of maladministration and unprofessional conduct.

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