Councillors have unanimously refused Goya Developments’ plans to replace the art deco former Adwest building in Woodley with a new industrial development.
Wokingham Borough Council’s planning committee turned down the proposed scheme at its June 9 meeting, despite the officers’ recommendation to approve. It had been deferred at the committee’s previous meeting.
After lengthy discussion about HGV movements, the plan to demolish the Headley Road East building, originally built for Miles aircraft production in the 1930s, and replace it with a scheme of 10 industrial units was turned down on heritage grounds.
More than 4,500 people had signed a petition to save the building, the last intact remnant of the former Woodley Aerodrome, and the weight of support to save it, was central to councillors’ decision.
Cllr Steven Conway, who proposed the motion to refuse, told the meeting little could be done about the air quality and HGV movement concerns and a further deferral would trigger an appeal over non-determination.
“That’s the bind in which we find ourselves,” he said.
However, he went on: “In my view the only safe grounds – and even then there’s a question mark about how safe it is – are the grounds that the NPPF allows us, as local planning authority, to take a balanced view of the value of the non-designated heritage asset.
“In that sense, the fact that Historic England have not given this designated heritage asset status is not important.
“However, as a non-designated heritage asset, we are entitled to take a balance view of its value.
“I entirely respect that officers have to balance what’s clearly considerable public support for that historic building with what they see as the benefits of the scheme.
“I can think of very few applications, over the many years on this committee, that have excited so much interest and so much commitment from members of the public to preserve a historic building – and to me that carries very significant weight.”
Conservative former Mayor and leader of the council Cllr Keith Baker, who is not on the committee, spoke at the meeting. He noted the make up of the committee had changed since the previous meeting and was now led by the LibDem/independent coalition. It was previously made up of a majority of Conservatives. He urged coalition councillors on the committee to refuse the application.
Cllr Conway, a LibDem, responded, saying the committee is not politically led.
In a Facebook post immediately after the meeting, Cllr Baker said: “The WBC has just finished debating this application and it was a unanimous refusal. The grounds were extremely narrow – based on local heritage grounds.
“All other grounds like air quality and HGV movements could not be used.
“Hold the champagne corks popping as this will almost certainly go to appeal where it will be more difficult to defend that refusal decision.
“But we have won this stage of the process so this is good news. Now the hard work really starts.”
Goya Developments has not responded to our enquiries for comment.
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