Sun, 26 Jul 2020
Wasing Estate has said it is "surprised and disappointed" that councillors turned down plans for a farm shop to support the rural economy.
Councillors rejected scaled-down plans to redevelop Shalford Farm into an estate farm shop, with overnight accommodation for wedding parties using the estate.
A bakery, fermentary, cookery school and event space were also planned for the site, which is currently used for vehicle storage.
The estate, which hosts an average of 150 weddings a year, had said the scheme would be a "significant step in transitioning Wasing from a traditional rural estate to a modern diversified business for a long-term sustainable future."
But councillors refused the plans over the traffic impact, despite hearing that local roads could cope with the increased level.
West Berkshire Council planners were concerned about the significant increase in traffic in the non-sustainable location.
Speaking at an eastern area planning committee meeting last week, principal engineer for traffic and road safety Gareth Dowding said: "The roads in the area would cope with the traffic, there’s no question about it.
"What we have an issue with is it’s four times the amount of traffic at the existing site and its wholly reliant on a motor vehicle to get to that site.
"The roads can cope, it’s just do we want that flow going down those country lanes?"
The Wasing Parish Meeting had supported the plans, along with local residents and ward member Dominic Boeck, who highlighted the scheme’s economic benefits.
A summary of support said: "The community want locally-sourced produce.
"It would encourage healthy eating and support local producers, providing an alternative to corporate brands that invade the high streets and villages."
Mr Boeck said the country was "looking down the barrel of a really hard recession" and that the district “must seize every chance”" to create rural jobs.
But the location of the farm shop and a reliance on cars raised concerns with councillors.
Alan Macro (Lib Dem, Theale) said: "We aren’t just talking about cars, we’re talking about delivery vehicles and people attending weddings coming by minibuses.
"I just don’t think we should be putting any more traffic on those roads at all."
Graham Pask (Con, Bucklebury) said he had a dilemma as the rural estates needed to be supported and the scheme would bring "a lovely barn" back into use.
But he added that the plethora of roads around the farm were narrow country lanes
He said: "I’m not anti-car. We do rely on cars and cars will change in the future, like it or not, and they won’t be emitting noxious fumes.
"But they will still be of a size."
The estate proposed an electric shuttle bus to bring people to the site from Midgham station, but Mr Pask was not convinced.
He said: "If it’s a wedding venue they are unlikely to go by train and hike heavy suitcases around – they will come by car.
"I think this idea of an electric bus is a little bit of a red herring.
"I’d love to support it because the principle is sound.
"The problem is where it’s based isn’t so sound.”
The only councillor to vote against refusal, Ross Mackinnon (Con, Bradfield), said he disagreed with the unsustainability of the site.
He said: "I understand that cars are the only method of getting there.
"I just wonder if that interpretation of the policy doesn’t take into account the rural nature of this district and, in particular, the rural area of this part of the district, where with the best will in the world, it’s very difficult to put cycling or public transport infrastructure into those areas and I feel it will preclude any reasonable economic development in the district.
"Cars are not all evil and sometimes they are the only way of getting around part of our lovely district in a reasonable manner.
"It just makes me a bit sad that’s a reason for refusal."
The application was refused by seven votes.
Mr Mackinnon voted against refusal and committee chairman Alan Law abstained.
Following the decision, Wasing Estate said it was considering its options.
Chief executive Andrew Perkins said: "We are surprised and disappointed at the decision to refuse permission to develop Shalford Farm.
"The old farmstead is in need of regeneration and this was a way to do it whilst creating jobs, supporting our organic farm operation and creating a much-needed community hub in rural countryside.
"Our plans would have enabled locals to buy fresh organic produce from the farm itself with zero food miles via the farm shop as well as enjoy a delicious meal in the old barn, which would have been sensitively converted into the restaurant.
"The Wasing Estate’s wedding and events business would also have benefitted from the bedrooms that were to be created out of the old piggeries.
“The rural economy needs all of the support it can get and particularly at this time a project that offers investment and employment should be fully supported."
The new plans follow an initial application, including a bespoke wedding and retail space, being refused by West Berkshire Council last year.
The estate removed the wedding retail and showcase element in the new application, reducing the retail floor space by 73 per cent and the overall floor area by almost 20 per cent.
Wasing Estate has lodged an appeal against the refusal of its initial scheme.