Tue, 24 May 2016
WEST Berkshire councillors have demanded more money towards affordable housing from a developer.
Developer Red Line Land Ltd is hoping to change the use of the Red Lion pub, which is thought to date back to the late 1800s, from a public house to residential use.
The company is also looking to demolish the former skittle alley and outbuildings to convert the site into flats.
Councillors had twice deferred the fate of the Grade-II listed pub and asset of community value, owing to questions surrounding its viability and the developer’s £50,000 contribution towards affordable housing.
The same issues arose at an eastern area planning meeting last Wednesday, where officers again recommended that planning permission be granted.
Senior planning officer David Pearson said: “It would be very difficult to refuse this application purely on the level of affordable housing contribution.”
Previous applications to convert the pub were refused, as was an appeal lodged by the developer.
The planning inspectorate said while the development would not have a detrimental impact, it would fail to secure appropriate contributions towards affordable housing.
The district councillor for Theale, Alan Macro (Lib Dem), said the situation was frustrating and disappointing as the appeal decision had pulled the rug from under the council’s feet.
A council report had said that while the £50,000 affordable housing sum was a lower-than-usual payment in terms of council policy, the amount was justified given the confidential figures in the viability report.
Quentin Webb (Con, Bucklebury) said there was nothing more the council could do and that officers would accept the low-range payment.
He was supported by Richard Crumly (Con, Thatcham Central) who said the council was caught between a rock and a hard place.
“The world is not a museum and we have to move on and pubs have to change or be turned into housing,” he said.
But Graham Bridgman (Con, Mortimer) disagreed.
He said: “It’s not a matter, at the end of the day, for officers to decide what is and what isn’t justified.
“My view is that £50,000 is nowhere near sufficient an amount to waive the requirement of affordable housing.”
The press and public were then excluded from the meeting after Emma Webster (Con, Birch Copse) asked a question linked to the confidential viability report.
She later proposed that the application be refused.
But councillors voted for an amended proposal for the recommendation from Mr Macro.
He suggested that the developer pay an increased sum towards affordable housing if the new homes sold for a higher value than in the viability report.
Campaigners fighting to prevent the loss of the pub are looking to buy the Red Lion from the developer.
The developer will not be able to start work on the pub until August, while a legal agreement is signed with the council.