ALDERMASTON villagers have said that they would rather see the historic manor house fall further into ruin than new homes built in the village.
That was the outcome of a public meeting held last month, where residents questioned developer Praxis about its plans to build 227 homes at Aldermaston Court; an enabling development to fund the restoration of the manor house and convert it into 23 apartments.
But at a packed meeting at Aldermaston Parish Hall, residents showed their opposition to the scheme.
Neighbours said that they would like to see the manor house restored, but not at the cost of trebling the size of the village.
Chairing the meeting, parish council chairman Dave Shirt asked residents whether they would rather see the manor house fall into dereliction than have the new homes built. “Yes,” was the resounding answer.
Managing director of Praxis, Steve Faber, said it was costing the company £7,000 a week to secure the site and that other efforts to restore the house had been unsuccessful.
But he told residents that something would happen on that site.
He said: “The park will not be the same as it is in two years time, in our ownership or someone else’s.
“This is not project fear, this is project reality, we can’t fund it infinitely.”
Speaking against the scheme, Peter Hulne, from the Aldermaston Manor Action Group, said that the restoration of the manor house should not be at any cost.
Referring to guidance on enabling developments from Historic England that the “public benefit had to outweigh any disbenefit”, Mr Hulne said that the application failed to support this requirement.
He said: “We feel there are more disbenefits than benefits.
“It’s a large number of houses in an inappropriate location.
“This may be the most financially beneficial but we feel there are other options.”
Residents agreed, saying that traffic from the new homes would increase the strain on the already struggling network generated by commuters to the Atomic Weapons Establishment.
Concerns were also raised about doctors’ surgeries and schools being at capacity.
However, planning consultant Sara Dutfield said that, owing to the nature of an enabling development, Praxis could only provide the minimum necessary to restore the house.
But she added that there was no obligation for Praxis to maintain the grounds, should the plans be turned down.
And when asked whether the homes had to be built in the village, Mrs Dutfield said that there were practical and theoretical obstructions.
She said that guidance on enabling developments was ambiguous, while there were no alternate sites within the company’s ownership for the homes to go.
Praxis purchased the 140-acre grounds for £4.7m in 2014 but when asked whether the company had overpaid, Mr Faber said: “I have no idea what relevance that has.
“I think people care more about education or transport and not how much a developer paid a couple of years ago.”
When asked what would happen if the plans were refused, Mr Faber said that Praxis would not hold the site in perpetuity.
“I would imagine we would keep going to appeal,” he said. “During that period of time there may be something that comes out of other options.
“I don’t think a hotel is financially viable. If we can find an office use then fantastic.
“I’m not certain what else it could be, the manor house itself is a large financial burden.
“There might be some esoteric use that none of us can think of at the moment.”
Praxis also wants to demolish Blue Circle’s iconic former office block, Portland House, in order to restore the historic setting of the park.
When asked whether the demolition represented good value, Mr Faber replied that the value would be in the eye of the person looking out across the restored parkland.
Residents did not object to converting lodges and stable block within the grounds into housing; and demolishing Oxford House and the Second World War building.