WEST Berkshire Council has been awarded £1.5m government funding to help deliver the otherwise “unviable” Sterling Cables site.
Developer Amirantes says that the scheme, comprising 167 flats, a new link road and widening of the Boundary Road bridge, represents value for money.
The cash will assist with the cost of decontaminating the former Sterling Cables site, described by the Newbury Town Council leader as an “eyesore”.
The site is contaminated with various chemicals, including hydrocarbons and ammonium, from its former use as the old gasworks and is thought to be the second most contaminated in the Thames Valley.
The developer of the scheme told the Newbury Weekly News this week that the decontamination costs had risen, making the scheme unviable without the government cash.
The council was awarded the funds from the Government’s Housing Infrastructure Fund, an initiative to make housing developments viable and get much-needed homes built quicker.
“Without this financial support these projects would struggle to go ahead or take years for work to begin, delaying the homes these communities need,” the Government said.
Plans to redevelop the Sterling Cables site have been in the pipeline for 15 years.
The scheme is deemed vital to unlocking the Kings Road link road, a key council objective to reduce traffic on Kings Road and Mill Lane, and improvements to the Boundary Road bridge, so that it can accommodate two-way traffic.
When the plans were approved in 2015, the infrastructure and decontamination costs came at a price to the local community – no affordable housing and no developer contributions – which would have amounted to £685,000.
However, a clause attached to the application allows West Berkshire Council to request the contributions if the cost of decontamination is substantially less than the estimated £2m.
Director at developer Nelson Group, Benjamin Budd, said: “We are delighted by this significant funding grant, which will unlock this site and enable us to deliver much-needed housing for the local area.”
Newbury town councillors heard in 2014 that the combined cost of decontamination and construction of the link road was estimated at £6m.
However, Mr Budd told the NWN that the cost of decontaminating the site would not be known until the work was completed.
He said: “Unfortunately, what has become clear is that the cost of decontamination was even higher than first thought, and that this, combined with other increases in costs in the construction industry, rendered the scheme unviable or at least unfundable, so much so that we still had to apply for the grant.
“This Housing Infrastructure Fund grant from the Homes and Communities Agency is allocated specifically to unviable sites, where a cash injection can unlock the delivery of much- needed housing to contribute to national Government targets.
“The fund was heavily oversubscribed and we went through an extensive viability process with the HCA, who chose us as one of the best value for money for the infrastructure in terms of the number of new homes which would be delivered as a result on an otherwise unviable site.”
Mr Budd added that the government grant would allow the company to deliver the first phase “in the near future”.
“We are now in the process of securing senior debt financing and complying with the terms of the various agreements to expedite our start on site,” he said.
In 2014, the Kings Road link scheme was expected to cost £2.5m, excluding land to be provided by the developer.
West Berkshire Council had secured funding for the road from the Thames Valley Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP), and had to be used within two years of being awarded.
However, the council’s executive member for Highways and Transport, Jeanette Clifford, (Con, Northcroft) said recently that discussions with the LEP and developer were ongoing, adding that the council was confident that it could secure the funding.
Commenting on the government funding, Mrs Clifford said: “We are delighted to receive this funding.
“It is a win for West Berkshire as the fund is oversubscribed.
“However, we made a great case that will deliver good housing on a sustainable site and exactly where they are needed.
“It will transform a post-industrial ‘blot’ and help traffic move better around the town.
“We knew from the start that this site would be a challenge, but working with the developer, the Local Enterprise Partnership and now with Homes England, we are going to deliver.”
Discussions are now under way as to how the £1.5m will be distributed.