There will be more risk and uncertainty for the London Road regeneration after opposition ‘call-in’ is thrown out by Conservative members.
In December 2020 the Conservative administration at West Berkshire Council voted to approve their approach to redevelopment at London Road Industrial Estate. Following that decision the Liberal Democrat opposition ‘called in’ the decision for further scrutiny based on 4 areas of concern:
- Concern over the lack of full time project management for a project of this scale.
- How the Council can match existing planning policy in how it will phase the development, in particular with reference to the loss of green space.
- Not enough emphasis put on how business will operate in the future given new home working arrangements and concern over the amount flats needed on the site, when those wanting homes want more space.
- Setting themselves up to fail by not carrying out an environmental impact assessment before progressing any further given the contaminated amount of land within the site.
The ‘call-in’ also examined the Council's approach to balancing its needs as the landowner and also as the planning authority.
Following a meeting on the Overview and Scrutiny commission on Tuesday evening to consider the above concerns Liberal Democrat members were disappointed that greater clarity was not provided on the points above, meaning that concerns over the project remain.
Unsurprisingly the Conservative Councillors unanimously backed their administration’s approach despite the serious warning from opposition members meaning the project will move to the next phase with the project management safeguards in place and serious answers over planning policy.
Cllr Lee Dillon, Leader of the Liberal Democrat Group on West Berkshire Council, said:
"We were asking for more work to be done so that this project can finally start delivering for Newbury and West Berkshire and let me be clear that we support the aim of redeveloping the Council’s land assets on London Road and we want it to proceed without undue delay, but need to be confident the council have answered key questions."
Cllr Jeff Brooks, Liberal Democrat Shadow Portfolio Holder for Finance, added:
“We have seen London road cost taxpayers millions of pounds because of previous poor decisions so our request for more project management to give councillors and residents assurance shouldn’t have been a surprise. This will be the first project the council have completed since the cross party report found serious project management failures in the past and we would have hoped the council would have put more resource into this to reduce the risk of future failures.”
Cllr Dr Tony Vickers, the Liberal Democrat Group on West Berkshire Council's Planning Spokesperson, said:
“There are clear planning policies in place that will make the current phasing unworkable in planning policy. As the democratically elected body we have to ensure we are working within the rules we judge every other application by. From answers tonight we still aren’t convinced the council can square this circle under their current approach.”