Sunday, 22 September 2019
THE former Wargrave Antiques shop will be converted into residential space despite opposition from residents and the parish council.
Gavin Frost applied to Wokingham Borough Council for a change of use to the ground floor after receiving permission to transform the first floor in January.
Wargrave Parish Council objected to the proposal due to concerns about the loss of retail space on the High Street and lack of parking in the village.
Efforts to sell the site to local and national commercial bidders, including Starbucks, Tesco and Timpson, were unsuccessful and the shop has been empty since closing in 2016 due to the ill-health of former owner John Connell.
A marketing report sent to the borough council suggested “extensive efforts” had been made to market the shop, but rejected offers due to the lack of appeal in moving to Wargrave.
Councillor John Halsall, who is also the leader of the borough council, said it was “regrettable” to lose retail space in Wargrave.
He said: “It is a great shame to lose shops in Wargrave High Street, but unfortunately the shops are not sufficiently used to make them competitive to keep them alive.
“However, I am delighted to see that they have put the appropriate conditions in place.
“I can remember a bustling High Street, but it is reflective of the shoppers, unfortunately. There is obviously not the demand.
“But I do regret it. I would love to see a vibrant High Street in Wargrave, but I am not sure what we can do to save it.”
The borough council approved the plans, imposing a series of conditions to help preserve the appearance of the building.
The decision notice states that no works to replace or install new windows or external doors may be carried out.
It has also been agreed that the residential unit will not be occupied until improved cycle parking has been provided, in order to encourage sustainable transport.
Councillor Graham Howe believes the decline in commercial interest in Wargrave is part of a national trend.
He added: “I think that they tried to let it or sell it to various commercial companies, but that was without any success. Unfortunately, you can't govern High Street economics.
“The owners can't sit on it forever, so while the change of use is regrettable, it has become inevitable.
“I just hope that what remains in Wargrave is successful, but we can't really do anything about it.
“If people don't want to buy or let it then what else are you going to do. You can't just let it rot into decay.
“Obviously, it is a worry, but it is part of a national trend that has been happening for a while now. It is not just Wargrave that is struggling.
“I know it is a great shame, but I don't know what the solution is. I quite understand while people are concerned.”
The frustration of the parish council was shared by local residents during a public consultation in July.
Villagers felt there was a “severe lack of parking” in Wargrave and objected to losing another iconic part of the High Street.
From August 2016 to August 2018, the property was advertised for lease and for sale by the former owner, who has since relocated.
Due to the lack of interest, the site was entered into an auction by Romans Estate Agency and was sold last year.
The building was originally used as a butchers until 1981 and was occupied by various businesses before it became Wargrave Antiques.
The design and access statement submitted to the council says the change of use “will 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.”
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