COUNCILLORS have strongly objected to plans for 20 new flats in Newbury town centre – and once again the primary reason was the developer’s reluctance to provide any affordable homes.
Ressance wants to build the flats, which will comprise 17 two-bedroom apartments and three one-bedroom apartments, on the site of the former snooker club on West Street.
If approved, the scheme would include 22 parking spaces and cycle storage for up to 40 bikes.
Planning executive for Ressance Sarah Melton attended a Newbury Town Council planning and highways meeting last week to present the proposals.
When asked why there were no affordable homes, Ms Melton said high building costs meant that the development would be unviable if they were included.
However, this prompted a backlash from several members of the council.
Leader Adrian Edwards said: “I am saddened that here we are.
“We are faced with some sort of viability statement that says poor old developer is not going to make any money by building this.
“I’m sorry, but if they can’t afford to produce a small number of affordable houses then it shouldn’t go ahead and I object very strongly.”
Fellow Conservative Tony Stretton echoed those views, saying: “I am wholeheartedly in agreement with councillor Edwards.
“Sometimes I don’t think we say it strongly enough about the lack of affordable housing.
“Developers should bear this in mind.
“It is just profit, profit, profit.
The chairman of the planning and highways committee, Anthony Pick, interjected: “We shouldn’t generalise.”
Mr Stretton replied: “Okay, I take that back, but developers are not in the business to throw money away.
“They are in the business of making money and that comes by not producing affordable homes because they eat into profit.”
During the meeting, councillor Jeanette Clifford asked: “It is noted that no affordable units are proposed because the developer considers such provision would render the scheme unviable.
“This weighs heavily against the scheme unless justified. How would you justify that?
To which Ms Melton replied: “That’s been justified through an economic viability assessment that was submitted with the application.
“Due to its commercial sensitivity it is not a public document, but the LPA [local planning authority] has a copy of it.”
Mrs Clifford added: “It seems extraordinary that on this site affordable housing can’t be delivered.”
Councillor Miles Evans acknowledged that the building was currently “in a very poor state” and said he had no problem with developing it “as long as it it is the right development”.
He added that he was “extremely disappointed” about the lack of affordable homes and urged the developer to see if it could bring down the building costs and make the project more viable.
Ressance says the development would have great positive impact on the street scene and provide much-needed new homes in West Berkshire
But councillors – and in particular Elizabeth O’Keeffe – weren’t overly impressed by the design either.
Mrs O’Keeffe said: “I appreciate there are a range of buildings around there, some better than others, but it does not seem to be very imaginative.
“It is just a square box.
“Could you tell us what it would actually look like?”
Ms Melton responded by saying it was an outline application so the finer details were being worked on and weren’t available.
Mr Evans added: “I am looking at the plans here for potential scale of some of these flats but how accurate are these measurements?
“Because they look incredibly small to me.”
Ms Melton responded by saying the scale was a fairly accurate indication as to the size of the flats.