A CONTROVERSIAL report ‘clearing’ the council of wrongdoing in a long-running planning enforcement row will not be ‘scrapped’, despite a call for it to be replaced.

The behaviour of officers and councillors involved in a legal battle between Wokingham Borough Council (WBC) and Wargrave garden centre Hare Hatch Sheeplands was reviewed by an independent solicitor and published in August.

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This came after judges had previously determined the council induced owner Rob Scott to withdraw an appeal against a planning enforcement notice before prosecuting him in June 2018.

Local Berkshire:

The report’s author, Mr Richard Lingard, found suggestions of unprofessional conduct were “unfounded” and claimed judges’ rulings were based on “supposition… rather than clear evidence”.

Residents were left ‘appalled’ by the review, with one Philip Meadowcroft questioning leader John Halsall about whether the report should be ‘scrapped’ at a meeting on Thursday (September 26).

He said: “The Lingard Report has openly, disrespectfully, and unlawfully challenged and rejected the opinions of both the Crown Court and the Court of Appeal.

Local Berkshire:

“As a result, the Lingard report has discredited itself and lacks any merit.

“The Lingard Report has thus been a waste of WBC residents’ council tax.”

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Cllr Halsall told Mr Meadowcroft the report would not be replaced by a new review.

He added: “You make some serious allegations about Mr Lingard’s independence and state that his report is unlawful, both of which the council would strongly refute.

“These lessons are valuable to the council and will help us improve our management of similar cases in the future.”

Local Berkshire:

Councillor John Halsall and deputy leader Cllr John Kaiser were interviewed by Mr Lingard as both councillors were involved in the legal saga.

Officers who spoke to Mr Lingard suggested councillors’ involvement in the matter was a “hindrance and not a help”.

Mr Meadowcroft claimed Cllrs Halsall and Kaiser were “unfit” to hold their positions and defence of their conduct was “in tatters”, and asked why they should remain in leadership posts.

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Cllr Halsall did not respond directly to this question and later told the News: “As the question was about me, it was not proper I respond to the question.

Speaking about the saga, he added: “I was a backbencher and a backbencher’s job is to support their residents.

“One of my residents was Robert Scott, and I did my very best to broker a deal for them.

Local Berkshire:

“The fact I was unable to find something acceptable for him and the council is a real, deep regret.”

Later at the meeting, Liberal Democrats leader Lindsay Ferris asked if several documents, including a report finding the council unfairly dismissed a disabled employee and the Lingard Hare Hatch review, were not published online as they would show WBC “in a bad light?”

Cllr Halsall replied: “I would refute your assertion that the Council has been selective or unbalanced in what it published.

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“It is not normal practice to publish reports such as this on our website.”