TRANSFORMING three office blocks on one of Newbury’s largest business parks into 129 flats will “clearly be detrimental” to the town’s economy, a West Berkshire Council planning officer has admitted.
However, the council has been unable to prevent the loss of 65,000 sq ft of office space on Newbury Business Park as developers continue to exploit permitted development rights (PDR).
As such, permission has now been granted for flat roof dormers to be installed on the second floor of each block as developer Stonegate Lane and Property looks to adapt the buildings for residential use.
Plans to convert Lambourn House, Nexus House and Derby House, in London Road, were given the green light in May, after the council ruled that no prior planning approval was required – meaning the development could go ahead under PDR without the need for a planning application to be submitted.
And this week an application detailing refuse storage, cycle storage and the layout of 187 parking spaces was approved, as well as the plans for the new upper-floor windows.
However, in a report recommending permission be granted to these aspects of the development, the planning officer laments the inevitable loss of the offices, writing: “In economic terms, the application will clearly be detrimental, given the loss of over 6,000m2 of [business] space in one of the district’s premier business parks.”
The officer also questions the suitability of the site for residential use, commenting on the low amount of amenity space.
“This falls well below normal space standards, but the council is unable to object on this point, given the PDR position,” the planning officer says.
The officer does, however, acknowledge the spending power that perhaps more than 200 extra residents will bring to the town, while admitting that converting a brownfield site into much-needed housing in the district was also “positive”, despite the lack of any planned affordable housing.
The three buildings, two of which are vacant, failed to sell at auction in July.
The office blocks had been expected to fetch as much as £9m, but there were no takers on the day.
It is not known if the current owners will now take the development forward or whether the offices will go under the hammer for a second time.
The controversial plans to convert the business space have met with opposition from Newbury Town Council, with former council leader and member of the planning and highways committee Dave Goff claiming in May that the development could be “the end of Newbury Business Park”.
Lodging a formal objection to the plans, the committee said: “We still consider that the conversion of the offices to residential is most unfortunate, given the loss of employment space and the fact that a poor living environment will result.”
Earlier this year, Newbury MP Richard Benyon called for greater autonomy for local authorities to deny developments under PDR, saying the office conversions had “gone too far” in the town.