PLANS to build a new village hall in Bradfield have this week been thrown out by West Berkshire Council.
Council planners were critical of the design, location and layout of the proposed 246 sq m development, which lies in an Area of Oustanding Natural Beauty (AONB).
A separate application, to build four new semi-detached homes as part of the scheme, was also rejected.
More than 148 letters of representation were sent to the council regarding the plans – with 101 of them recording objections.
The applicant, Bradfield Village Hall Trustees, has said it will be appealing the decision.
Plans to demolish the existing village hall in Southend Road and replace it with a new, state-of-the-art building, along with car parking, a new play area and multi-use games area (MUGA) were submitted in June.
The application was the third attempt at the scheme, with the first set of plans withdrawn after the trustees were given advice by West Berkshire Council planners. The second application was then swiftly withdrawn after Bradfield Parish Council decided it no longer wished to be listed as a co-applicant.
It is thought the overall scheme will cost in the region of £1.7m to complete, with £13,000 of that having now been spent on application fees.
The chairwoman of the Village Hall Trustees, Christine Evans, said she was disappointed that the council had chosen to refuse the application and strongly questioned why the decision was made by a council officer and not by the council’s eastern area planning committee.
“We have bent over backwards to do what the council has asked of us,” she said. “They have totally ignored all our efforts.
“Every one of the consultees has no objection other than the parish council. There’s no reference in their report that this is a community building and a vital part of the community at that.
“I need to speak to our ward councillor to find out why this was not called in in front of the committee. We will be pursuing this at a higher level.”
The plans, which have divided the village, drew heavy criticism from opposition group Bradfield Planning Application Group (BPAG) who questioned the scale and cost of the development.
Members of BPAG were also unhappy over the loss of the green space which would be swallowed up by the significantly larger replacement village hall development. And it seems council officers agreed with the concerns of the objectors.
In the planning report, officers pointed out that the “substantial building” would be taller than any other nearby buildings – a claim denied by Mrs Evans.
The MUGA was deemed to be too close to the boundary raising questions over noise, while the council also had concerns regarding anti-social behaviour as a new play area and car park would, to an extent, be hidden from view behind the new building.
The council also reference the “significant” land take from the nearby field to accommodate the development.
The officer goes on: “Any harm to the character and appearance of an area within the AONB attracts great weight in the overall planning balance due to the sensitivity of the area to change from urbanising development.”
The council’s report concludes: “The development is not appropriate in terms of its location, scale and design in the context of the existing settlement form, pattern and character.”
Giles Allen of BPAG said: “Bradfield community expressed their views to WBC with over 70 per cent of the representation letters objecting to the two planning applications.
“We are reassured by the council’s decisions and their primary reasons for refusal; concerns about the loss of green infrastructure and impact within the ANOB to be caused by the housing development, and the size and location of the proposed hall.
“We are further reassured that council has accepted in principle the need for a quality and sympathetic redevelopment of the hall which respects both the village character and ANOB.
Mr Allen added that BPAG had always championed the "redevelopment approach" over the large scale demolish-and-replace scheme put forward by the trustees, however, he said the group respected the right of the trustees to appeal the decision.