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'Floating homes' plans between Theale and Burghfield ditched

Developer says refusal has cost the community £60m

Application for floating homes near Theale submitted

DEVELOPERS looking to build ‘floating homes’ between Burghfield and Theale are considering their options after the plans were sunk by West Berkshire Council.  

Berfeld Ltd was seeking permission to build 24 Can-Float homes, along with 201 conventional houses, along the north and western edge of Theale Lake.

Can-Floats are designed to rise and fall with water levels during flooding and Berfeld, comprised of Floodline Developments and Larkfleet Group, said that they are an innovative way to increase housing stock in areas usually unsuitable for homes.

But the council has taken the view that the floating homes, by their nature, would be constructed in high flood risk areas and had failed to pass a policy test.

National guidance says that new homes should be built in areas of low flood risk where available. 

The council said that other sites in the eastern area either had planning permission or had been identified in its development plan document.  

Furthermore, it said the Can- Float homes would urbanise the lake and change the character of the water’s edge. 

The plans were met with 328 objections – 300 more than those in support – largely over the impact on local wildlife. 

The area is a breeding habitat for nightingales, a species that has undergone significant decline in recent years. 

Berfield had highlighted that nightingales are not afforded special protection under law.

However, the council said that the local population was significant in national terms and that the unmitigated loss of at least four nightingale territories was unacceptable.  

The development would have invested in replacing Burghfield Sailing Club, a new access off Hangar Road and a new lift bridge and flood alleviation works. 

The developers had said that 20 per cent of the homes (45) would be affordable, below the council’s 40 per cent requirement. 

However, the council was satisfied that a full contribution would have been unviable owing to ‘abnormal’ site works.

The cost of the Can-Float homes, estimated at around twice the cost of a conventional property, was another factor for its refusal. 

And while the council said that the scheme would not generate unacceptable delays on local roads, the proposed replacement vertical lifting bridge caused a number of concerns.

The council said that the bridge would require an unacceptable level of maintenance, and therefore delays to road and water traffic.

It also questioned whether a management company could effectively monitor the bridge. 

Educational impact was another refusal factor, with the council saying that Burghfield St Mary’s Primary School would need to expand by 50 per cent to accommodate the new children; something it did not have capacity to do.

Burghfield councillors Carol Jackson-Doerge and Ian Morrin had requested that the plans be determined by councillors sitting on the eastern area planning committee. 

But theirs and the developers’ request was turned down because of a missed deadline.

Speaking to the NWN, Mr Morrin, a sailing club member, said the scenario was different from other applications. 

“Lots of work was being done around flood alleviation and the benefits to the sailing club and not just a developer trying to force through development of a site that wasn’t in the DPD,” he said. 

“They were working hard to get a resolution that everyone was reasonably happy with. I felt that was beneficial to put that to the committee.”   

In a statement, Berfield said it was disappointed with the decision which was “disregarding local councillors’ pleas”.

The statement added: “With the support of the local ward member, we asked for this important application to go to committee, so that elected members could consider our proposals, but were turned down by officers on a technicality.

“Members should surely be able to consider such an important application.    

“Our plans would deliver significant infrastructure for the community at no cost to the council tax payer. We estimate the total loss to the community to be in the region of £60m. 

“We are now considering our next steps.”

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Article comments

  • Herkelina

    11/07/2017 - 17:05

    I am not sure who Ian Morrin thinks he is representing. The only supporters of the application were members of the sailing club as initially they thought they were going to get 1.8 million pounds spent on their club. They won't. At the full application stage the can-float homes will metamorphose into void homes when it is realised they don't need to go up and down - the floodplain is flat, the highest level of flood water can be calculated and the poles upon which the non-floating million pound houses will rest will be higher than that. Let us not pretend this is innovative engineering, inspired by the Mulberry harbours, as claimed by Justin Meredith of Floodline. Any development here will destroy the wildlife which has taken over the area, following completion of the gravel extraction, including precious nightingales. Sections of the Environment Agency do not agree with the consultee section, which designated the area as Flood Zone 1. This is being actively disputed.