A seven-year legal battle between Wokingham Borough Council (WBC) and a group of businessmen has finally come to an end after the authority was forced to shell out thousands of pounds in taxpayers money.

Hare Hatch Sheeplands, a plant nursery, cafe and farm shop in Wargrave, has been embroiled in a planning enforcement dispute with WBC since 2012.

The authority accused Hare Hatch owner Mr Robert Scott of extending his land unlawfully but in January he and seven other business owners who operate from the site heard how a Court of Appeal deemed the council’s decision to prosecute the businessmen as “flawed”.

READ MORE: Court slams council over planning dispute

On Thursday, June 27, the parties met again in Reading Crown Court after the business owners looked to claim costs from WBC.

Mr Scott, who was present at the ruling, and the businessmen, will be awarded £68,000 after Judge Angela Morris ordered the local authority to pay up.

Mr Scott said: "Naturally we are pleased that the court has found in our favour. As the judge said the matter was in danger of dragging on and a conclusion needed to be reached without further delay."   

Judge Morris said: “As I am sure everyone will be at pains to understand, this matter has gone on for an inordinate length of time, from both sides and I am quite sure that from both sides everyone will want to have a line drawn under this matter at the earliest possible opportunity.

"I am sorry to drag counsel to court today, but may I say that this matter was potentially dragging on and there needed to be a finality to it."

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The defendants, including Alistair Mills, of Petstop, Paul Wheston, of Fish Glorious Fish, Nigel Timms, of Bell Antiques, Martin Sando, of Granite Transformation, Derek Chamberlain, of Quality Garden Buildings, Paul Woodhead, of Deep End Pools, and Gordon Parry, of Garden Trends, will receive the money within 28 days.

Leader of the opposition, Liberal Democrats councillor Lindsay Ferris, said: “I’m not surprised they have had to pay and I think this is only going to be part of it.

“They have got their own costs to pay too - that could be quite substantial as well.

“This is quite damning for the council. It just seems to have all gone wrong.”

In February, the Local Democracy Reporting Service reported how members of WBC’s top team had refused to hold an external investigation into the saga, but in April it was revealed an independent reviewer would examine the council’s actions.

Read: Councillors refuse to hold planning investigation

A Wokingham Borough Council spokesperson said: “Our primary concern throughout this long-running dispute has been to protect the Green Belt from unlawful development – and we have been successful in that. There is still an injunction in place preventing unauthorised development on the Green Belt at Hare Hatch.

“Obviously having to pay these court costs is disappointing. However, this is just the latest in a long line of court decisions about the enforcement action at this site, all of which have been successful which have resulted in Hare Hatch Sheeplands having to pay the Council’s costs.”