The first planning application to redevelop Newbury’s London Road Industrial Estate (LRIE) is to be submitted next year – 20 years after the concept was first envisaged.
West Berkshire Council (WBC) has approved an amended development brief to regenerate the 11.13-hectare site it owns, along with a timescale in which at least one application will be submitted for developing a former depot site near the centre of the land by mid-2023.
At the same time LRIE will also be renamed in a competition with local schools to reflect new sustainability objectives.
The council plans the former depot to be redeveloped by the end of 2024 with increases of 30 per cent in both employment space and rents – along with carbon neutrality – to be achieved by 2030.
And in what the council calls the ‘refreshed’ development brief, it has scrapped plans for 280 homes at the vacant former Newbury FC football ground in Faraday Road, which falls within the LRIE site, after research suggested little developer interest.
Instead the authority has opted for a sustainable economic regeneration of LRIE which it says will ‘create an appealing destination for businesses’ across the LRIE site. The council wants green economic growth and a positive contribution to the district’s carbon neutrality aspirations.
WBC’s executive committee’s June 9 meeting heard LRIE will be an employment-led scheme, adding 200 jobs to the 300 already there by 2030.
The changes follow soft market testing, between November 2021 and April 2022, by Avison Young, which had first drawn up the development brief in 2020. The new research found there to be weak interest in developing the football ground for housing and no interest in developing it for market sale housing unless more land was available.
Avison Young found no market for speculative offices at LRIE but high demand for industrial development. Investment in placemaking would be needed to improve the site’s overall appeal.
In a tetchy, political exchange at the meeting, Cllr Tony Vickers, opposition (LibDem) spokesman for highways and transport, asked what has changed and if the switch from residential to commercial space was for presentational reasons in light of the forthcoming Local Plan.
Cllr Ross Mackinnon, Conservative executive member for finance and economic development, called it ‘unbecoming’ to suggest that was the reason.
He went on: “The market conditions are what’s changed. It’s in the phrase ‘changing market conditions’ because market conditions do change. And when facts change, we change our minds and we change our approach and it’s entirely appropriate.”
LRIE regeneration had been a key element of the Newbury Vision, published in 2003, and has remained in all subsequent versions but the scheme has never progressed.
Legal action between 2015 and 2018 thwarted an attempt to bring forward an earlier scheme and then Avison Young was brought in in 2019 to draw up the development brief which has now been updated.
Speaking at the executive committee meeting, Cllr Lee Dillon, leader of the LibDem opposition, argued that a community football stadium could have been built at the former football ground.
He said: “This has been years and years of wasted time, wasted money and wasted opportunity for children who could have played there.
“In this time, (Glasgow) Rangers have gone into administration, been relegated, got promotion and won the championship. A lot can happen in that time and all we have seen at London Road is stagnation.”
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