MORE than 100 flats have been approved for development on a Newbury business park, despite council officers claiming the site would offer a “poor living environment”.
The five office buildings at Overbridge Square Business Park in Hambridge Road will be converted into 107 one- and two-bed apartments, meaning the loss of 60,000 sq ft of business land.
Developer, Overbridge Development Ltd, has been given the go-ahead after West Berkshire Council accepted an application to carry out the conversion via the prior approval process.
The process means the developer does not need to submit a formal planning application.
Under the regulations, the council can only request a planning application to be submitted if convincing objections are raised based on noise impact, highways, flooding and land contamination.
However, despite objections from Newbury Town Council, The Newbury Society and a neighbouring business over the loss of office space, no objections had been raised based on the above issues.
In council documents, the planning officer states the council would have almost certainly rejected the proposal if a planning application had been required.
The officer says the development will comprise a “poor living environment” with no external amenity space.
The officer also states the site will mean the “significant loss” of employment space, contrary to the council’s Core Strategy, while also pointing out that the council cannot request any affordable housing from the developer under prior approval regulations.
However, the report concludes: “Unfortunately, these are not the tests against which this [prior approval for change of use application] is required to be addressed under the relevant legislation.
“It is apparent that the tests are met and so, subject to conditions, the prior notification is approved and no planning application is required.”
Chairman of Newbury Town Council’s planning and highways committee, Anthony Pick, disagreed with the move. He said: “My view is that whole area should be reserved for business purposes.
“I’m concerned that the further loss of business space in an area which is zoned for business. I think we ought to keep to our zoning policy.”
However, ward councillor Billy Drummond (Lib Dem, Greenham) said: “Put it this way, I wouldn’t die in a ditch to go against it, if it means more houses for people in Newbury.
“I know there’s a problem with taking away space for offices but we need houses.”
Speaking about the planning officer’s concerns, he added: “If people choose to live there then it’s up to them.
“I wouldn’t like to live on the new part of the Racecourse development, but we don’t have a lot of spare land here. “It just makes it really difficult – people just need somewhere to live.”
Architect Brooks Murray, which has submitted the application on behalf of Overbridge Development Ltd, did not provide a comment before the NWN went to press.