Wed, 30 Dec 2020
THE “next steps along the road” to regenerating the London Road Industrial Estate (LRIE) have been taken after West Berkshire Council approved spending £345,000 over the next three years on relaunching the project.
The council’s ruling executive approved a phased approach to redevelop the site over the next 10 years at a meeting last week.
Regenerating the estate has been a long-held council ambition, but it has faced a number of set backs, including a Court of Appeal ruling setting the project, which cost £946,000, back to square one.
Consultant Avison Young was appointed last year to work on a new development brief and masterplan for the estate.
The council has now set aside £100,000 a year over the next three years for consultancy support where it does not have internal resources during the project development phase.
A one-off budget of £45,000 will also go on feasibility services funding next year, including negotiations with estate stakeholders with commercial interests.
Executive member for economic development Ross Mackinnon (Con, Bradfield) said that while there would an overall vision for the estate, development would be done on a plot-by-plot basis.
He said this would pose “a much lower risk” to the council and that compulsory purchase orders would be “far less likely”.
He added that financial returns were of equal, not superior, importance to high-quality regeneration.
Plans to regenerate the estate have been in discussion since 2004, but shadow portfolio holder for climate change Adrian Abbs (Lib Dem, Wash Common) suggested that the council pause once again.
He said: “Covid has taught us quite a lot this year, none of it very good, but the thing is we don’t really know what’s going to happen.
“We are already committed to spending another £345,000 over the next few years.
“Are we really so blinkered that we are really not thinking about taking a pause here?
“If it’s as valuable an asset to us as a council it will continue to be a valuable asset to us as a council.
“However, what I do know for sure is when we start to make a move it will disrupt business that is going on there already, as we disrupted the football.
“We might get some housing on there, but it’s becoming very much awash to me as to where the community value is and where the value is of this development considering we are spending more and more and more money on it.”
In response Mr Mackinnon said: “That sounds like a policy change from the Liberal Democrats to me, who have always assured me that they’re fully supportive of the regeneration.
“I don’t accept it’s been a headlong charge.”
A council-led investigation into how the local authority breached EU procurement law when it appointed St Modwen as its chosen developer revealed its findings this year.
It revealed that there had been a piecemeal approach to the project, with no evidence of a clear business case and a lack of clarity over who was in charge.
Shadow portfolio holder for economic development Jeff Brooks (Lib Dem, Thatcham West) said he “feared for the robustness of the council’s project management capability, as we have been found wanting in the past”.
Mr Mackinnon said he had full confidence in the officer in charge of the project and day-to-day management of the project would lie with that officer, regardless of their job title.
Concerns were also raised about the council’s dual role as landowner and planning authority.
Mr Mackinnon said it was “perfectly proper” for him to oversee the project from a landowner’s point of view.
He said the council would be preparing a supplementary planning document and considering the planning factors.
He said: “It’s very important that the separation of the council’s interests as landowner and local planning authority not only exist but are seen to exist.”
Seconding the proposals, portfolio holder for public health and community wellbeing, leisure and culture Howard Woollaston (Con, Lambourn) said the scheme would deliver “significant affordable housing” on the southern end of the site.
The revenue from this, he said, would act as the catalyst for infrastructure works to allow for commercial development on the site.
Mr Woollaston said: “The other attraction of phased is it allows the council to work with current occupiers to help with relocation over the medium term, allowing the intensification of the current low-density uses and creating employment opportunities.”