A SHOCK decision by councillors to allow a controversial development in Inkpen prompted murmurs of “absolute disgrace” from the public gallery.
A similar application had previously been turned down and an appeal against its refusal was roundly rejected by Her Majesty’s Planning Inspectorate.
Following the shock upset on last Wednesday night, the chairman of West Berkshire Council’s district planning committee, Alan Law (Con, Basildon), said: “An interesting debate... we’ve gone against policy and against local feeling.”
The new application was to demolish an existing bungalow and detached garage at Hunters Way in Craven Road and replace it with a new house, on a slightly smaller footprint than previously.
The decision, by six votes to four, clearly surprised some – the previous application for a replacement dwelling on the site was refused and an appeal was dismissed in October 2014.
A planning officer’s report again recommended refusal and Inkpen parish councillors voted unanimously against the proposals, which generated around 20 objections from local residents.
Hungerford goldsmiths and jewellers Greg and Rachel Furr, live nearby and lodged a formal objection in which they stated: “The style, size and position of the building remains out of character with the rest of Craven Road.
“It is a dominant development made more so by both its height and prominent areas of glass.”
Former Hungerford GP, Dr Robin Dunn, agreed: “The size of the proposed dwelling is at least 125 per cent larger than the present bungalow... the house, as proposed, is out of proportion to the properties which surround it.”
Secretary of the Inkpen Rights of Way Committee, Janet Dunbar, wrote: “This development is too large, too prominent and too intrusive on the (adjacent) footpath.”
The North Wessex Downs Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB) group also objected.
Not all comments were negative.
Claire Scott of Charnham Way, Hungerford, said she regularly runs in the area and described the present bungalow as an “eye sore”.
Formally supporting the proposals, she added: “The design appears of high quality.”
A design and access statement submitted by the applicants states: “The design of the new house seeks to blend contemporary design and modern living with traditional vernacular materials.”
The matter was called in to committee by former district councillor Andrew Rowles because of the site’s “controversial history”.
He spoke in favour of the new proposals at the meeting.
Paul Bryant (Con, Speen) said: “It’s modern and very attractive... I like it.”
Paul Hewer (Con, Hungerford) agreed: “I’ve seen some real carbuncles in Inkpen – but this isn’t one of them.”
Graham Pask (Con, Bucklebury) said: “I don’t want to drive a coach and horses through policy – I propose following the officer’s recommendation [for refusal].
The motion was defeated, however, and a rival motion to grant planning permission, proposed by Hilary Cole (Con, Chieveley), was carried.
The committee’s decision was later branded an “amazing act of defiance” by the Council for the Protection of Rural England (CPRE).
The CPRE, a national charity devoted to protecting and enhancing rural England, issued a statement citing the “overwhelming opposition” to the development and condemning the committee for supposedly throwing reason to the winds and “ignoring” a whole tranche of local and national planning policy guidelines.
The statement is titled: “An Act of Defiance – and the countryside loses again. Developer was given the go-ahead for a replacement dwelling which will threaten the beauty and tanquillity of the AONB [Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty].”
The statement asked: “What is the point of planning policy when West Berkshire Council simply choose to ignore it? And what is the point of localism when the voice of the many is overruled by [the council’s] planning committee?
“Who will defend our countryside, if elected councillors cannot work within the National Planning Policy Framework and the Local Plan (adopted in 2012)?”
Chairman of the West Berkshire Council district planning committee, Alan Law (Con, Basildon) responded: “It was a full and frank discussion and the vote at the end was finely balanced.
“Decisions against policy can be made if members feel there are special circumstances or reasons, and six to four considered that there were.”