Sat, 14 Jul 2018
DEMOLISHING a vacant public house along Newbury’s historic canal and transforming it into a retail unit would be a step closer towards ‘homogenising’ the town.
That was the view of Newbury Society chairman David Peacock, who this week urged town councillors to object to plans to convert the Narrow Boat pub into a 2,000 sq ft shopping unit at the London Road Retail Park.
The pub has been vacant since it closed in December 2016.
Planning applications, submitted last month, say a tenant for the unit has been identified, but a name has yet to be revealed.
The new store would create around 30 full-time and part-time jobs.
The dilemma of compromising Newbury’s historic character for further retail use was again discussed at a meeting of the town council’s planning and highways committee on Monday evening.
Dr Peacock, a local historian, mirrored the proposed demolition of the Narrow Boat to an independent review published last week, which suggested struggling retailers should no longer be relied upon to prop up town centres.
The Grimsey Review 2 predicted that 100,000 shops could disappear from the UK’s high street within a decade, adding that business rates were accelerating the decline.
Dr Peacock said: “In order for Newbury to flourish, it has to keep its character and not move further towards the uniform, homogenised model of many towns.
“There is a choice here between what could be a building with character, close to the canal, and another retail box along the lines of Poundstretcher, just to the west, but larger.”
Members pressed Dr Peacock on both the commercial viability of the pub and its location, with Lynne Doherty (Con, Northcroft) claiming it was a bit far out of town for the “majority” of pub-goers.
She also said the lack of housing surrounding the pub may have been a contributing factor in its decline.
Councillors also listened to Mr Peacock’s criticism of the lack of detail given by developers in their heritage statement of the building.
This includes its failure to mention the pub’s original name – The White House – and the fact that the building appeared to be rebuilt in the 19th century.
He also said that should members be minded to approve the demolition, an archaeological investigation could reveal information about the history of the canal and the Kennet Navigation.
Despite hearing arguments from Mr Peacock, a vote for no objection to the plans was carried.
In a letter to the town council’s planning and highways committee, an asset manager on behalf of the retail park owners, PIL Newbury Ltd, confirmed developers would be commissioning additional archaeological work in agreement with West Berkshire Council.
But speculation about the retail operator intended for the site remains.
It said: “We cannot specifically name the intended operator.
“They are one of the few retailers whose style of trading remains robust as the traditional retail sector struggles against online retailing.”
The letter added it was confident the unit would not draw any noticeable trade from the town centre and will “compliment the wider retail offer for Newbury”.