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Council Decision on Protection of Historic Drews Building Ratified by Planning Inspector

THE PLANNING Inspectorate has upheld the Council’s decision to refuse a planning application which proposed the complete demolition of the former historic Drews The Ironmongers shop.

Plans to demolish the former Drews building on Caversham Road and replace it with a mixture of residential units and retail space was initially refused by Reading Borough Council’s Planning Applications Committee in October last year. Councillors rejected the proposals due to the loss of the historic main building, which is a heritage asset, and the proposed replacement building being out of scale with its surroundings.

On Friday last week (May 14th), the Council’s decision was ratified by a Government Planning Inspector, following an appeal by developers and a hearing and subsequent site visit to the Caversham Road building in March this year. The Planning Inspector dismissed the appeal on both of the Council’s substantive reasons for refusal.

In his decision to rule against the appeal, the Planning Inspector wrote: ‘The existing building reflects the values of the Historic England Guidance, in particular, for its historic significance as an identifiable Victorian warehouse, built for the brewing industry…’

Referring to the proposed new building, he wrote: ‘It would appear dominating and out of scale, more appropriate to an urban centre rather than a suburban location.’

The full Planning Inspectorate decision can be found at:

Tony Page, Reading Borough Council’s Lead Councillor for Strategic Environment, Planning and Transport, who gave evidence at the Planning Inspectorate hearing earlier this year, said:

“The dismissal of this appeal is the perfect example of both the value of the local planning process, which is often underplayed, and of a local community mobilising to protect its heritage and local surroundings.

“I would particularly pay tribute to the Bell Tower Community Association for its tremendous determination and efforts in researching the site and gathering the necessary evidence which has resulted in the local listing of the former Drews building, and the Reading Conservation Area Advisory Committee, as well as fellow local Councillors and planning officers who, along with Bell Tower representatives, made a compelling case to the Planning Inspector.

“This planning application was rejected by a Planning Committee made up of all four political groups in Reading, all of which spoke against it at the time. It is pleasing to see the Planning Inspector unequivocally uphold both of the Council’s substantive reasons for refusal.

“While the Council and the local community recognise that a regeneration of this site is desirable, the retention of the façade of Drews is non-negotiable and would need to be an underpinning element of any new planning application, should one come forward. To that end we would welcome a meeting with the owners of the site at the earliest opportunity.”

The proposals were to demolish the former retail warehouse and the erection of a mixed-use building comprising 44 residential units consisting of x5 affordable units, 194sqm of retail floorspace (Use Class A1) at ground floor and associated car parking, cycle parking and landscaping. It was refused full planning permission on 16th October 2020 after consideration at the Planning Applications Committee meeting on 7th October 2020

Reading Borough Council notified the landowner that the collection of buildings on the site were added to Reading Borough’s List of Locally Important Buildings and Structures on 11th February 2020.

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