Tuesday, 22 January 2019

Flats plan for old office site

Flats plan for old office site

ANOTHER office block in Henley could be turned into housing.

Chaskel Rand and Joel Sofer, from London, are seeking planning permission to demolish Anderson House on the Newtown industrial estate, which used to be the home of digital signage firm Onelan.

They want to build two blocks of up to four storeys containing a total of 43 flats with 61 parking spaces in between them and a large ground-floor office space facing on to Newtown Road.

The blocks would be built from red and buff brick with slatted timber cladding and have either three or four floors.

Twenty-eight of the flats would have two bedrooms and 15 would have one. All those on the upper floors would have balconies.

None would be “affordable” with rents or purchase prices fixed below the market rate as the developers say this would make the scheme unviable. Both blocks of flats would have solar panels on the roof in order to provide electricity and there would be storage space for up to 118 bicycles.

Two small lawns would be created at the northern and southern frontages of the 0.49-hectare site and the mature trees at the southern boundary with Mill Lane would remain.

There would be a new entrance off Mill Lane as well as the existing access off Newtown Road and there could be a new path connecting the two. The applicants’ architect PRP says the site is ideally located for homes as there are bus stops for services to High Wycombe and Reading within a two-minute walk and Henley station is also within easy walking distance.

PRP says the existing building, which has been vacant for more than a year, was marketed without success.

The applicants already have planning permission to convert it into 11 flats but now say it cannot be refurbished due to its poor condition and it should be demolished.

They say including affordable homes would prevent them from achieving their target of a 20 per cent return on the flats but they are offering almost £309,000 towards improving infrastructure.

The policy of South Oxfordshire District Council, the planning authority, is that new developments should have a minimum quota of 40 per cent affordable.

The site isn’t earmarked for housing in the joint Henley and Harpsden neighbourhood plan, which says the Newtown estate should be kept for employment purposes. But the applicants’ planning agent Boyer says there is no demand for the site for use commercially and the development would make better use of the land and improve the appearance of the area without increasing traffic.

It says: “The existing building has been marketed for over a year and had no viable interest.

“The only way in which to provide a high-quality commercial space is through a mixed-use development.

“The proposal protects the amenities of its neighbours and would not adversely impact the surrounding area or road network.”

The district council’s economic development team has supported the proposal in principle, saying it would “continue employment on the site and provide much-needed office space”.

Thames Valley Police have objected to the footpath, saying that it would increase the risk of crime.

The site is next to the former LA Fitness gym, which is now being converted into a care home despite objections by residents and Henley Town Council, and to the former RPS Energy building, which was converted into a block of flats called Hill View over the summer.

Meanwhile, the Hub at Hallmark House, a three-storey office complex in Station Road, is to be converted into at least 23 flats, although the final number could be higher.

Ressance, of Newbury, has been been given the go-ahead under permitted development rights.

This is a measure introduced by the Government to tackle the national housing shortage.

It means developers don’t need to submit a full planning application and their schemes may only be rejected on limited grounds like environmental or traffic hazards.

Henley Town Council objected to the original proposal and a more recent one to add six more flats on an additional floor.

The building is almost opposite the former Isis House offices which are being converted into seven flats with an additional third storey after the district council granted permission in 2016.

In August, a consortium of developers from London received consent to convert the Smith Centre, an office complex off Fair Mile, into 36 homes.

None of these sites was recommended for housing in the neighbourhood plan, which was incorporated into the district council’s planning  policy after passing a referendum in 2016.

The former Highlands Farm industrial estate and Makower textiles offices, both off Greys Road, have been redeveloped for housing in accordance with the plan.

Deputy Mayor Ken Arlett, who chairs the town council’s planning committee, said he and his colleagues were still pursuing a so-called “article 4 direction” to protect the Newtown estate.

This would revoke permitted development rights for the whole area so all planning applications would be fully scrutinised.

Councillor Arlett said: “The district council’s draft local plan requires us to identify an additional hectare of land for commercial usage so if they don’t agree to that direction it would make the neighbourhood plan pointless.

“If we lose any more employment land it will make it even harder to hit that target and it’s in their power to do something to stop it.

“They can’t make demands with one hand then put obstacles in the way with the other.

“Permitted development rights are fine in big cities but make no sense in Henley.

“If we lose more sites beyond what we agreed in the neighbourhood plan we’re going to lose workers to other towns.”

• What do you think? Write to: Letters, Henley Standard, Caxton House, 1 Station Road, Henley or email letters@henleystandard.co.uk”

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