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Future of iconic Greenham Control Tower is put in doubt

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THE future use of one of the country’s most prominent Cold War buildings has been plunged into doubt after major renovation plans were recommended for refusal by West Berkshire planners.

The application will be decided at a western area planning committee meeting at the council offices on Wednesday evening.

Greenham Parish Council first expressed an interest in purchasing the Greenham Common Control Tower in 2013, two decades after the USAF pulled out of the airbase, leaving the Grade-II listed building vacant.

In April 2014, the parish bought the tower for a reportedly six-figure sum from West Berkshire Council before lodging plans to transform the site into a visitor café with interpretation centre and viewing platform.

Refurbishment work has already been completed, after permission was granted to enhance and refurbish the site in order to accommodate the proposed change of use, in the event that permission was granted.

However, Berks, Bucks and Oxon Wildlife Trust objected to the proposal, claiming that the redevelopment would have an adverse impact on vulnerable species there.

Now council planning officers have recommended that the project be refused altogether.

A report prepared for councillors ahead of Wednesday’s meeting states: “In economic terms, there is little doubt that by rejecting the application, there will be some minimal harm to the rural economy, by virtue of the ‘loss’ of the café and business offices for [presumably] a local company.

“In social terms, the refusal will have a detrimental impact, as undoubtedly the café and interpretation centre would have been an excellent focus for meeting and education/recreation.

“In environmental terms however, while the future retention of this heritage asset would be presumably assured by the implementation of the change of use, an environmental benefit in historic asset terms, it is the ecological impacts which must be respected and conserved, which this application does not do.”

The officers’ report states that applicant Greenham Parish Council had failed to demonstrate adequate mitigation measures that the increased footfall on the Common would have on local wildlife, particularly birds and their habitat.

The report concludes that the application is therefore “deemed unacceptable, given that the public benefits resulting from the proposal do not outweigh the potential ecological harm.”

If councillors were to overturn recommendations to refuse it, the redevelopment would transform the control tower into a café, together with BBOWT offices, storage, toilets and two interpretation rooms – one for the historic Peace Protests and the other a Cold War room.

The second floor would house a public observation area with panoramic views across the Common and beyond.

In support of the application the Newbury Society said that the footfall figures were both “unfair and overblown”.

Tony Vickers wrote to councillors: “What is being lost in this extreme focus on the need to protect wildlife on Greenham Common is the huge potential benefit being offered by this proposal to the people of Newbury.

“As an airbase, the Common’s functions both as a place of recreation and a refuge for wildlife was lost.

“Its restoration was to the people of Newbury and it could be said that the benefits to wildlife are secondary.”

Greenham parish councillor Julian Swift-Hook said: “I’m very disappointed that the planners feel they have to recommend refusal, particularly after all the hard work that has gone into getting the project this far.

“However, all is not lost, and I'm encouraged to read in the committee report that the issues are actually finely balanced.

“I am hopeful we can overcome the objections and that the members of the planning committee will feel able to grant permission once they've had a chance to visit the site and to hear views from all sides.”

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