The council’s top branch has said it will not examine how its planning team conducted itself in the build to an unsuccessful legal case against Hare Hatch Sheeplands farm shop near Wargrave.

Last month, The News reported that Wokingham Borough Council (WBC) had been refused permission to appeal a ruling made by Reading Crown Court as it was claimed the council was wrong to pursue legal action against the shop after WBC had initially charged it with breaching an enforcement notice.

Lady Justice Hallett had said the council’s decision to prosecute the shop’s owner 'was flawed'.

And at a meeting of the council’s executive on Thursday, January 31, leader of the opposition councillor Lindsay Ferris said: “We are concerned about the significant costs that have been incurred and the potential future costs on the council.”

Cllr Ferris asked Cllr Simon Weeks if the council would agree to commission an independent external inquiry “into how this situation occurred”.

But Cllr Weeks, executive member for planning and enforcement, said: “WBC pursued this case in line with legal advice and for the sound reason that the owner of Hare Hatch Sheeplands flouted planning law for a significant period.

“We will not apologise for being vigilant in protecting the integrity of planning policies and, in particular, the green belt.

“It is worth pointing out that, due to our vigilance and perseverance, all the illegal developments have been removed from the site and an injunction remains in place to ensure they are not re-built.

“We always review cases such as this but are satisfied that an independent external inquiry is not required on this occasion.”

In response, Cllr Ferris said: “I think we have a potential issue here. I don’t have a problem with the council pursuing the planning process but when judges have indicated there was an abuse of process… this does hit the reputation of the planning department and we do need to learn from this.”

He asked if the council would instead undertake an internal inquiry to learn how the council conducted its procedures in the build up to this case, but Cllr Weeks again indicated that this would be unlikely, instead suggesting Cllr Ferris meets with the leadership of the council and the planning team to review suggestions made to the council.

Cllr Weeks added that the court’s decision to refuse an appeal from WBC had had “serious repercussions with other local authorities across the country.”

Speaking to The News after the meeting, Cllr Ferris said that Cllr Weeks’ response had been “predictable”.

He added: “I got the predictable answer of ‘we haven’t done anything wrong’.

“They wouldn’t have been in court if they had done anything wrong.

“I am concerned about the reputation of the council and the fact we are going to have a sizeable bill.

“Who is going to foot the bill? The council tax payer. That could mean that services that we want and need could be reduced or decimated by action that the council has taken.

“There is an arrogance about the council - it is ‘we know best, we are always right’, and they don’t say sorry.”