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Future of 59-flat retirement home in central Newbury uncertain as affordable housing "unviable"

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Developer Churchill Retirement Living wants to demolish the former offices at Avonbank and Northcroft houses, in West Street and which have been vacant for around five years, to provide a 59-flat assisted living scheme for the elderly.
The average age of residents, based on other schemes operated by Churchill is expected to be 79, however anyone above the age of 55 could live in a flat there.
The United Reform Church will remain in its current location.
Revised plans for the scheme went before West Berkshire Council’s western area planning committee last Wednesday, after numerous objections, including by Newbury Town Council, to its ‘overbearing’ four-storey design right up to the pavement at West Street.
While planners were satisfied that the scaled back design, which remains at four storeys, although now set back by at least 1.5m from the pavement, quelled those concerns, the developer faced further scrutiny for stating that it was not viable to provide affordable units at the site, contrary to council policy which states that 30 per cent of new developments should be affordable.
And while Churchill has agreed to provide a sum, the total of which has not been made public, as a contribution towards other affordable housing schemes at an alternative site, it faced further criticism for not providing financial support towards areas of public open space.
Applicant and agent for the assisted living firm, Andrew Burgess, said that the scheme would, however, bring a number of positives to the Newbury community.
“The proposal will allow people to downsize, release equity, improve the health of older people and overcome loneliness, as well as significant economic benefits to the town centre businesses from the residents,” he said.
Victoria ward member David Allen (Lib Dem) said: “I’m very disappointed about the lack of affordable housing on site, which is desperately needed in West Berkshire and Newbury.”
Julian Swift-Hook (Lib Dem, Greenham) added: “Undoubtedly there’s a need for housing for older people in the town but there are a number of those older people who aren’t able to afford private market housing.
“I have always believed that the council’s role is primarily to support residents of our county who cannot support themselves...it’s very important that we should be looking be looking for affordable housing.
“The public open spaces contribution...undoubtedly the residents of this development are likely to be less mobile than residents that may be somewhat younger but there will none-the-less be residents there who will wish to enjoy the public space.
“The principle of the development I don’t have an issue with but when you start looking at the detail I think this development does fall down and therefore I’m struggling to support it.”
Council officers will now work with Churchill to investigate the scheme’s viability assessment and the application will be brought back to the committee at a date to be confirmed.

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