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'Offices not flats' in Newbury's Faraday Road playing field rethink

West Berkshire Council has abandoned its plans to build flats on the old Faraday Road football pitch.

As part of a “project refresh” on its goal to redevelop the London Road Industrial Estate (LRIE), the Conservative-run council now plans to dedicate the site to “commercial space” by 2026.

The change of heart comes following analysis by consultant Avison Young, which discovered there was a lack of interest from businesses in developing the site for housing and a “significant” rise in demand for commercial space, “driven by the post Brexit trading environment, the impact of the Covid pandemic”, and the UK’s 2050 net zero goals.

How the playing field now looks
How the playing field now looks

The move means a development brief produced by Avison Young commissioned by the council in 2019, which found that up to 280 homes, 3,473 sq m of office space and 5,400 sq m of space for other businesses could be built on the site as part of a phased development, has been superceded.

If the council’s new strategy is approved by its executive on June 9, it says the plans will “unlock the site’s potential as a sustainable, high-quality employment site and business destination”, welcoming additional employers and investment as well as at least 200 new jobs.

On its new timeline, the council plans to rename the site using a school competition by the middle of next year, redevelop its depot site and submit a planning application for the football field by the end of 2024, and increase the employment space by at least 15 per cent by 2026, with the overall project finished by 2030.

West Berkshire Council executive member for finance and economic development Ross Mackinnon (Con, Bradfield) (46140856)
West Berkshire Council executive member for finance and economic development Ross Mackinnon (Con, Bradfield) (46140856)

Ross Mackinnon, the council’s executive member for finance and economic development, said: “Over the past few months, we've gone right back to basics.

“We've reviewed our objectives for the site, taking into account the results of work commissioned from our consultants, as well as the need to drive post-Covid recovery and progress towards our carbon net zero aspirations.

“We've also put together a comprehensive delivery strategy that sets out very clearly how we intend to achieve those objectives in the coming months and years.

"The successful redevelopment of this important employment site has the potential to deliver a range of economic and environmental benefits for Newbury and the surrounding area.”

He added that the council had a “desire to engage with existing leaseholders and tenants to discuss their aspiration for the future”.

The council is the freehold owner of the majority of the estate, and collects around £400,000 of rent from the businesses which currently occupy it.

It still plans to buy back leases on the site when they become available for redevelopment – ranging from 22 to 85 years, and has refused to rule out using compulsory purchase orders to force business owners to leave the estate.

Tony Vickers said the Liberal Democrats would return football to the playing field
Tony Vickers said the Liberal Democrats would return football to the playing field

The local Liberal Democrats have said they remain “doubtful” whether the London Road Industrial Estate can be redeveloped without allocating any of the site for housing.

Tony Vickers, the group’s spokesman on planning, also reiterated the opposition group’s call for football to return to the playing field, with the Monks Lane and Manor Park proposals cancelled.

He said: “We’re pleased the executive now thinks that housing on the football pitch is ‘no longer integral to the long term regeneration’ of the LRIE.

“However we are doubtful whether the whole site can be redeveloped without an element of housing, including that part which already has full consent known as Gateway Plaza.

“This greatly increases employment on a very tired site while also delivering well over 100 new homes.

“Why therefore has it taken so long for the council, as landowner, to allow it to proceed?”

He added: “We believe that the council should now stop pretending it can replace the football ground with anything but another, much better, facility on the same site.”

He said under a Liberal Democrat administration, “We’d be inclined to proceed to an outline planning application for the whole site with the intention of redeveloping it under a Local Development Order.”

Redeveloping the LRIE has been in the pipeline for more than 15 years.

However, it has been hit by a series of a setbacks and costly legal challenges.

In 2018, it suffered a major blow when the Court of Appeal ruled that the council had breached EU law by failing to follow the correct procurement process when it appointed St Modwen Plc as the developer.

But it refused to give up on the project and in 2019 commissioned Avison Young to draw up the development brief.

In December 2020, the council’s executive adopted this brief and agreed to adopt a phased approach to the scheme.

It then decided to carry out a refresh of the project between November 2021 and April 2022 after an environmental appraisal report, as well as analysis of the local, national and global economies.

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