Greenham control tower project was granted permission all along
District councilor estimates £60,000 wasted on redundant second application
Greenham Parish Council’s flagship plan to transform a Cold War control tower into a café, narrowly approved in September in spite of officers’ recommendations to refuse it, did not need the planning permission at all, it has been revealed.
At a planning meeting two weeks ago, council officers admitted that an existing application dating back to 2000 already granted the change of use for Greenham Parish Council’s visitor centre and café redevelopment.
The battle to approve the scheme, which was won by the parish council at a planning meeting back in September, cost the council an estimated £60,000.
Now a local wildlife trust has warned that as the second permission is now redundant, important planning conditions, aimed at protecting Greenham Common, may no longer be enforced if the parish chooses to withdraw the new permission and instead rely on the 2000 application.
Speaking at the Western Area Planning meeting in October, control team leader Derek Carnegie said: “What this means is that there will be no Section 106 agreement to that and no mitigation.”
Jeff Beck (Con, Clay Hill) admitted: “If we legally challenge it we wouldn’t have a leg to stand on.”
Billy Drummond (Lib Dem, Greenham), who also sits on Greenham Parish Council which is spearheading the project, told fellow members: “That decision cost us £60,000 and we needed every penny of that money.”
In a statement following the revelations, the Berks, Bucks & Oxon Wildlife Trust raised concerns that as the parish council do not now need to implement the mitigation measures, there may be a detrimental impact on Greenham Common.
The organisation said: “The wildlife trust is concerned that impacts for wildlife on Greenham Common, which the council was intending to address in the recent planning proposal, may no longer be dealt with.
“In light of the recognised impacts on wildlife, and the unusual circumstances, we hope that both Greenham Parish Council and West Berkshire Council will work with the wildlife trust to ensure that any impacts on wildlife are minimised.”
Addressing BBOWT’s concerns, Greenham parish councillor Julian Swift-Hook said: “Protecting the ecology of the common is as important as public access to the common, and it’s a difficult balance.
“I’m pleased and relieved that the parish council will not now be forced to spend another £40,000 on top of the wasted planning costs on what we see as unjustified mitigation measures, especially given the huge positive impact that the control tower will have as soon as it is opened.
“But we will of course work closely with BBOWT, as we always have done, to ensure that the impact of visitors on wildlife is mitigated in practical and sustainable ways.”
He added that it was “disappointing” that the extant permission only came to light just days before the second application was decided earlier this year.
He said: “Greenham has had to spend thousands of pounds progressing a complex planning application that it now transpires wasn’t necessary, which is frustrating to say the least.
“We haven’t yet decided what should be done with that second application, we will make that decision when we have had a chance to take advice from our planning people.”