THE flagship redevelopment of one of the country’s iconic Cold War buildings into a café has been delayed indefinitely amid negotiations with West Berkshire Council after a wildlife trust objected to the plans.
Greenham Parish Council first expressed an interest in purchasing the Greenham Common Control Tower in 2013, 20 years after the United States Air Force pulled out of the base, now a Grade-II listed building.
The tower was sold to the parish in April 2014 for a reported six-figure sum and plans were simultaneously lodged to redevelop the site into a visitor café with interpretation centre and viewing platform, with a target opening date of summer 2014.
This was later pushed back to the following year around the time the former chairman of Greenham Parish Council, Tony Forward, quit, saying that the added pressure of the control tower project was “the straw that broke the camel’s back”.
Parish councillors confirmed this week that the project had now been put on hold after the Berks, Bucks and Oxon Wildlife Trust objected to the proposal earlier this year, citing insufficient information regarding the protection of wildlife there, including woodlarks, great crested newts and bats.
BBOWT said in its objection: “An adverse impact on these vulnerable species is reasonably expected as a result of increased noise and other recreational pressures due to an increase in visitor numbers to the control tower and changes in visitor patterns across the SSSI.”
The trust added: “In view of inadequate submitted information, the council may not be able to demonstrate that they have implemented all reasonable endeavours to avoid deterioration of habitats during the planning decision process.”
Greenham parish councillor Julian Swift-Hook told the Newbury Weekly News this week that spring 2016 was the latest target date to complete the much-delayed project.
He said: “It’s a fairly broad target.
“Right from the very beginning we have encountered problems and during the refurbishment we have identified that the building was in much worse condition than it originally appeared.
“Right from the beginning there was quite serious vandalism and lead being taken from the roof.
“The objection that BBOWT have raised is in their capacity as a wildlife trust and we are working with them to find the best way to solve it.
“I am sure this planning objection will be overcome.
“Everybody wants this project to be successful.”
In a statement the parish council said: “The control tower is a complex building that was neglected for a number of years and is presenting a number of challenges.
“However, Greenham Parish Council will continue to endeavour to overcome these problems with the help and advice of our co-opted committee members and our contractors.”
West Berkshire Council spokesperson Martin Dunscombe confirmed: “We’re currently in discussions with Greenham Parish Council with regards to their planning application.
“These negotiations continue but we hope to be in a position to make a decision in early to mid-autumn.”
Former Greenham chairman Mr Forward, who was one of the driving forces behind securing the bid for the control tower in the first place, said that the latest delay was no surprise.
He said: “It’s not surprising that BBOWT have had to object.
“They have a reason to protect the community and they are only doing their job.
“We had a close working relationship with BBOWT where they did everything they could to advise us of the sorts of issues that arose but I seem to remember that we preferred to ignore that and carry on regardless.
“The biggest hurdle which I think is a major one was the ongoing running costs.
“It’s going to have to be heavily subsidised or paid for through charges.”
He added: “This project is something which Greenham is doing for the whole of West Berkshire and it was part of the role of a parish council to do it. If it hadn’t then the control tower would have been lost to the community.”
The application for the redevelopment is still under consideration by West Berkshire Council and a final decision is expected in the autumn.