Wed, 29 Aug 2018
NEWBURY town councillors have unanimously objected to plans to convert one of the town’s largest redundant commercial sites into 191 apartments.
The application seeks permission to change the use of the vacant Bayer House, which was previously occupied by pharmaceutical firm Bayer, into 182 one-bedroom flats and nine two-bedroom flats.
The proposals have been submitted by applicant Selenger Ltd under Permitted Development Rights (PDR), which enable developers to change the use of a building without having to make a planning application.
Bayer was based in the town for more than 30 years before deciding to relocate its 470 staff from Strawberry Hill to Reading’s Green Park last year.
The announcement prompted a huge backlash at the time, with many people accusing West Berkshire Council of not doing enough to retain one of the district’s largest employ-ers.
There were also fears that Bayer’s departure would result in Newbury becoming a dormitory town.
At a meeting of Newbury Town Council’s planning and highways committee on Monday, members severely criticised the proposals.
The concerns were led by chairman Anthony Pick, who has been challenging the use of PDR in zoned commercial areas of Newbury – a piece of government legislation which he believes undermines the district’s approved planning policy.
The loophole has left local authorities almost powerless to prevent office-to-flat conversions, as the legislation dictates that such developments can only be refused on specific grounds such as noise impact, highways and flooding.
Over the past year, two separate PDR proposals have been submitted for Newbury Business Park – one for 172 flats and another for 129 flats.
Insufficient parking space was among the main concerns raised by members considering the proposals forBayer House.
Members also shared the view that transforming one of Newbury’s most significant commercial sites into residential use was wrong.
Councillor Elizabeth O’Keefe (Lib Dem, Victoria) said: “To say I’m infuriated and exasperated by this application is putting it mildly.
“We’re losing a commercial site yet again.
“We have a housing need, but is it a need for one-bedroom flats?
“We don’t know enough about the parking – we don’t know anything about it.”
Jeannette Clifford (Con, Northcroft) also raised concerns over the lack of detail in Selenger Ltd’s supporting documentation.
Mrs Clifford said: “They refer to the preferred secondary as The Castle School, which wouldn’t be the preferred secondary school.
“There are other mistakes which suggest they don’t know the site as well as they could.”
Council leader Adrian Edwards (Con, Falkland) highlighted that, while the redundant building might not have suited Bayer’s needs, the commercial site could be retained for other smaller businesses.
It was a view supported by John Gardner (Lib Dem, St John’s) who suggested software business Micro Focus could occupy the building.
Mr Gardner said: “We’ve talked about Micro Focus being the second biggest employer in Newbury and certainly a major company who are stranded in that little site they’ve got on Old Bath Road.
“I would have hoped they might have thought of it.”
Summarising, planning chairman Anthony Pick (Con, St John’s) warned against the danger of over-committing on one-bedroom flats and ruled plans for parking, highways and traffic flow had not been adequately considered.
Mr Pick said: “We’re objecting because these factors haven’t been adequately considered, not because we object in principle.
“Even if the building isn’t fit for purpose, it’s still the loss of a commercial site.”
West Berkshire Council planning officers are expected to make a decision on the application by September 24, 2018.