Friday, 23 August 2019

Conversion of empty shop into homes splits villagers

PLANS to transform an empty shop in Wargrave into homes have divided opinion among villagers.

Gavin Frost already has planning permission to turn the space above the former Wargrave Antiques premises in High Street into a flat and this work is currently taking place.

Now he wants to convert the former shop area into residential use as well.

The business closed in 2016 when owner John Connell retired due to ill-health. His family wanted to convert the whole property into four flats as there was no interest in the shop as a business premises, despite the asking price being lowered.

Wokingham Borough Council refused permission on the grounds of loss of retail space and the “excessive” density and footprint of the development in the Wargrave conservation area.

Mr Frost’s latest application says the change of use would provide “good family accommodation in a village where there is a lack of affordable dwellings”. It adds: “It will provide much-needed accommodation in the area for people of all age groups and the use of the building as a residential unit will bring it back to life.”

A three-week consultation on the proposed change of use prompted mixedresponses from residents.

Michael Porter, of Station Road, supported the application. He said: “It is futile to pretend that there is any demand for conventional shops on Wargrave high street due to lack of footfall and limited parking facilities.

“The reality of the situation should be accepted as it will greatly improve the appearance of what is becoming a very desolate looking area.”

But Corinne Cockrell, of Church Street, said: “The loss of retail premises within Wargrave has diminished the vibrancy of the village and reduced local employment. There are already extremely severe pressures on car parking locally and the addition of each extra residential unit will exacerbate this problem unacceptably, especially as most households now own more than one car.”

Michael Simpson, of Church Street, whose back garden backs on to the property, also objected.

He said: “Whether two or three units, this additional development is intensive and will further impact the weekend and evening parking issues in the High Street and Church Street area.

“There is already inadequate parking provision in the area and the council simply can’t keep allowing more and more developments when this issue has not been addressed. The loss of yet another residential space will further impact the look and feel of the conservation area. I also don’t believe there isn’t demand for the ground floor space for commercial use.”

Repeated efforts to lease the property have failed. National businesses, including Tesco, Starbucks and Timpson, have all turned down invitations to take it on.

A report by the council said: “Demand for a retail unit in Wargrave High Street is simply not there, as evidenced by the lack of serious lease offers received in nearly three years.

“The building has been promoted consistently via the most popular online marketing portals, via direct communication with local and national businesses and by word of mouth within the community.

“Concessions, including a rental value 19 per cent lower than the area average, short-term leases and the promise of a fully refurbished unit have still not generated any serious interest.

“Unless a change of use is granted, the building shall, sadly, remain derelict and detract from the historic beauty of Wargrave.”

The borough council will make the final decision.

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