Saturday, 21 July 2018

Luxury watch firm wants to expand

LUXURY watch manufacturer Bremont wants to move from one side of Henley to the other in order to

LUXURY watch manufacturer Bremont wants to move from one side of Henley to the other in order to expand.

The company, which was founded in 2002 by brothers Nick and Giles English, is currently based at Sawmills, an award-winning building off Marlow Road on the Culden Faw estate.

It hopes to relocate to a purpose-built 18,000 sq ft complex on a two-acre field at Sheephouse Farm, off Reading Road, immediately south of the Jubilee Park playing fields, by 2018. This could accommodate up to 70 staff.

Bremont plans to submit a planning application to South Oxfordshire District Council within the next week.

It has already made a presentation to Henley Town Council and held informal talks with councillors in Harpsden, whose parish the new site is in. It has also asked neighbours for their views and has stressed the design could be modified in line with their  comments.

The new complex would be more than three times bigger than the company’s existing 5,000 sq ft base. It would include offices, a workshop and laboratory that would be specially ventilated to keep them dust-free.

The new “low slung” development would be shorter than typical farm buildings and about 18ft tall at its highest point. It would have grass on the roof so the field would still look like a “virtually seamless green space”.

The company also hopes to achieve the highest possible BREEAM rating, which is an international standard for environmental friendliness.

A hedge screening the site from public view would be retained but the pine trees behind would be felled and replaced with native species.

Hedges would also be planted to screen the 50-space car park from Sheephouse Farmhouse.

Access would be via the existing entrance, which was previously used for the farm shop. Several derelict farm buildings would be demolished.

A footpath to the bus stop on Reading Road would be extended to encourage use of public transport.

The plans have been drawn up by architect Spratley Studios, of Station Road, Henley, which designed Bremont’s existing oak-framed building, which was named best small commercial development in the 2013 Local Authority Building Control Building Excellence Awards and also highly commended in that year’s Chiltern Building Design Awards.

Bremont, which currently employs about 40 staff, moved there in 2013 and rents the site from the Culden Faw estate, which also owns the land at Sheephouse Farm.

The estate supports Bremont’s expansion and wants to keep it as a tenant and the company says it wants to remain in Henley.

Although the new site is not earmarked for development in the district council’s local plan or the joint Henley and Harpsden neighbourhood plan, Bremont says there are “exceptional” reasons to the relocation as it would boost the local economy.

Architect Jeremy Spratley said: “The site is currently untidy and offers a good opportunity for development. It is the right side of Henley for commercial activity and continues the ribbon of development from Newtown Road.”

The company told Henley councillors that Bremont was a “premium” business which provided jobs for young people and it was proud to be British and bringing watchmaking back to England.

Councillors suggested Bremont could instead move to the former Wyevale garden centre but the company said this could delay the move by two years as no other site in the area was immediately available.

It couldn’t move to an ordinary business park because it needs a dust-free environment.

South Oxfordshire District Council’s economic development and planning officers support the plans in principle, subject to residents’ views and detailed planning considerations.

Harpsden Parish Council is opposed the scheme as the Wyevale site is earmarked for commercial redevelopment in the neighbourhood plan, which will go to a referendum in the next few months.

Chairman Kester George said: “It would be intolerable to have some form of industrial activity on both sides of the A4155. Perhaps there is a choice to be made between the two but it’s unacceptable as things stand.

“It would erode the rural character of the area and we’re very worried about likely congestion on the main road as there’s more than enough traffic already. There’s also a proposed housing development at the old Jet garage site which could make it worse. We have made our views known to Bremont.”

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