PLANS to convert offices on Newbury Business Park into 129 flats have met with stern opposition from town councillors.
If given the go-ahead, the move would have a “disastrous” effect on Newbury’s premier business park in London Road, as well as on the ongoing protection of business space in the town, according to members of the council’s planning and highways committee.
Developer Stonegate Homes is hoping to convert three existing office buildings into three blocks of 43 one-bed apartments under Permitted Development Rights (PDR).
At a meeting of the planning and highways committee on Wednesday, March 19, town councillors objected to the proposals and revealed their mounting frustrations at the continued loss of protected business space in Newbury.
Councillors immediately drew comparisons with Overbridge Square in Hambridge Lane, which saw developer Overbridge Development Ltd being given prior approval by West Berkshire Council to convert 60,000sq ft of office space into more than 100 apartments.
Speaking at the meeting last week, chairman of the committee, Anthony Pick (Con, St John’s) said: “I’m very seriously disturbed by these developments. We should make a very strong recommendation to West Berkshire Council about this issue.
“It’s a matter of very great urgency.”
While agreeing that the location was not perfect, Lynne Doherty (Con, Northcroft), pointed out, however, that more affordable accommodation must be developed in the town.
“We need affordable homes,” she said.
“The type of development is something that we need, but I agree that it’s not ideal.”
Dave Goff (Con, Clay Hill) said: “We could see the end of Newbury Business Park if this goes ahead.”
All but one member voted to object to the proposals, with Lynne Doherty choosing to abstain.
Two of the buildings, Nexus House and Lambourn House, are currently vacant with the third, Derby House, soon to be vacant, according to the proposals.
The applicant states there has been no interest in its current office use, adding: “The proposed development will make efficient use of underused buildings and provide 129 units to meet the district’s housing stock on a suitably-located brownfield site.”
Introduced in 2013, PDR allow a developer to change the use of a building from business to residential without having to submit a planning application.
According to a report from Thames Valley Berkshire Local Enterprise Partnership in December, there were 29 prior approval applications for a change of use from office to residential granted between April 2013 and March 2015, which would result in the loss of approximately 165,979sq ft of existing office space.
However, the district council has confirmed to the Newbury Weekly News that officers are now looking at the possibility of introducing new regulations (article 4 directions) which would limit the scope of PDR on office conversions.
West Berkshire Council spokesman Martin Dunscombe said: “West Berkshire already has a number of article 4 directions in place and officers are considering the issues surrounding its use on office conversions, the implications for West Berkshire and what evidence the council can produce to justify their introduction.”