Mon, 08 Oct 2018
REDUNDANT offices previously occupied by one of Newbury’s largest employers will make way for flats.
District council planning officers have given the green light to convert the vacant Bayer House, in Strawberry Hill, into 191 apartments.
This is despite strong objections from Newbury Town Council and one senior councillor in particular, who described it as a “scourge on the planning system”.
Pharmaceutical firm Bayer was based in the building for more than 30 years before relocating its 470 staff to Reading’s Green Park last year.
The proposals to convert the company’s former Newbury HQ into 182 one-bedroom flats and nine two-bedroom flats were submitted by applicant Selenger Ltd under Permitted Development Rights (PDR).
Changes introduced by the Government in 2013 allow a developer, under PDR, to change the use of a building from business to residential without having to submit a planning application.
The application is one of several PDR applications granted by the district council in Newbury over the past year.
At a meeting of Newbury Town Council planning and highways committee on Monday, August 20, members unanimously objected to the 191-unit Bayer plans, amid growing fears that converting buildings on business parks and industrial estates into new residential blocks could have a detrimental effect on the town.
The concerns were led by the committee’s chairman Anthony Pick, who has been extensively challenging the use of PDR in zoned commercial areas of Newbury.
In a letter to the Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government, James Brokenshire MP, Mr Pick argued that planning should be “genuinely plan-led, empowering local people to shape their surroundings.”
Speaking in light of the local authority’s decision to approve the Bayer House application, Mr Pick said: “The PDR system undermines the whole principle of the planning process.
“The purpose of planning is to prevent unsuitable developments from taking place.
“The argument for the Government is that they are providing additional housing, but these developments are located far from schools, shops and public amenity space.
“It’s causing havoc, in my opinion. It’s a scourge on the planning process.”
West Berkshire Council should be applying ‘overt pressure’ on the Government to challenge PDR legislation, Mr Pick said at August’s meeting.
Local authorities can block permitted development with an Article 4 direction – but this has been seldom used in West Berkshire.
The district council approved all 28 of the PDR applications it received in 2017.