Wed, 24 Jul 2019
NEWBURY town councillors have unanimously backed plans to refurbish the Waterside Centre and hope it will become a “destination for young people and families”.
BBY Waterside Ltd has applied to refurbish and partially demolish and extend the facility, which dates back to the 1960s.
The refurbished community and youth centre would provide a range of activities, including rock climbing, dancing and canoeing.
Among the proposed features are a new 14.5m climbing tower and a two-storey viewing gallery/café for public use overlooking the main hall and Kennet and Avon Canal.
Town councillor and Newbury mayor Elizabeth O’Keeffe (Lib Dem, West Fields), speaking in support of the plans, said: “The state of the Waterside Centre at the moment is pretty appalling. It is in an awful state.
“This application will certainly improve that.”
She added: “Our [Newbury Town Council] policy is to support youth work and again, this will do that.”
No new parking will be provided, with the application saying that there are already a number of car parks serving their relative retail/office units.
Mrs O’Keeffe acknowledged that “there is not a great deal of parking”, but said that had “never been an issue before”.
Martha Vickers (Lib Dem, West Fields) agreed, saying: “We have mentioned lack of parking, but one hopes in the town centre that wouldn’t be overly necessary.”
West Berkshire Council acquired the canalside building when Berkshire County Council dissolved in 1998 and, until recently, used it to provide support to the most vulnerable young people in the district.
An agreement was reached with Bradfield College, the Bradfield Club and Berkshire Youth earlier this year to bring about the long-awaited refurbishment.
Bradfield Club will purchase a 50 per cent share in the centre from the council.
Berkshire Youth has submitted the plans for the £750,000 refurbishment, paid in part by the Bradfield Club, but also by a number of other donors.
Once complete, the centre will be operated by Berkshire Youth on a peppercorn rent from the council and the Bradfield Club.
Berkshire Youth chief executive David Seward said: “I think what young people deserve is a better-quality offer.
“The youth offering has been poor for a very, very long time.
“For us, the ambition would be that it it would be a destination for young people to go to and that they would like to be part of.”
There was also a discussion among members about the proposed climbing tower.
Roger Hunneman (Lib Dem, Wash Common) said he was “very struck” by it, adding that it was a “very nice feature to put there”.
Mr Seward said: “The fantasy for me was that somebody would build it in glass and we could have them climbing inside a glass tower, but the architects have said that is ridiculous and slightly foolish.”
Summarising, Mrs Vickers said: “I welcome this very much. The town council has been campaigning for some time for youth facilities in the town centre.
“It has been a great sadness that the Waterside Centre has been virtually derelict for such a long time.
“There is nothing really in the town centre for young people and we all know that young people need some reasonable accessible venues.
“Not everybody has a lot of money to spend and they need somewhere they can go.
“It is an attractive building and will hopefully bring families, and not just young people.
“I am very excited and very much in support of it."”
Jeff Beck (Con, Clay Hill), proposing that the council support the plans, said: “I endorse everything that councillor Vickers has said. I welcome this application."”
Steve Masters (Green, Speenhamland) also supported the plans, saying: “The town needs something of this nature.”
Newbury Town Council can only support, object, or offer no objections to a planning application.
The final decision is expected to be made by West Berkshire Council by August 28.