Agenda item

Application No. 192852 - Sorbus House, Fishponds Road, Wokingham

Recommendation: Conditional approval subject to legal agreement


Proposal: Outline application with for the proposed erection of 38 dwellings to include one and two bedroom dwellings, landscaping, bike store and bin store (access to be considered)


Applicant: Mr P Smith


The Committee received and reviewed a report about this application, set out in agenda pages 141 to 180.


The Committee were advised that the Members’ Update included:


·           Reference to the previous building being destroyed by fire, and noting that there was no direct entitlement for a replacement building following fire and/or demolition;

·           Reference to an approval for a replacement office building on the site which had since expired;

·           Correction to Condition 9;

·           4 Neighbour objections received since publication of the report and associated officer responses;

·           Confirmation that the commuted sum in lieu of the 11.4 units of affordable housing as quoted in paragraph 78 was correct;

·           Further clarification that an off-site commuted sum was acceptable because the Council’s Housing Policy Team felt that affordable housing could be provided in a more accessible location.


Paul Smith, applicant, spoke in support of the application. Paul stated that they had worked closely with Wokingham Borough Council (WBC) throughout the planning and pre-planning phases, and significant changes to amenity space had been made throughout the application process on the advice of officers. Paul added that the previous building on-site had been burnt down, and the remaining ground had now become a wasteland. Paul stated that there was no market for office space in the area, and other properties in the area had been developed into residential units using permitted development rights. Paul added that they had noted and taken seriously all of the concerns and objections with the application. Amenities in the area included local schools and two large doctors’ surgeries who were taking on new patients and did not have capacity issues. Paul stated that a CIL contribution would be made as part of this application which could be used to provide further infrastructure within the area. Paul added that the application did not meet the threshold requirements for SANG provision and electric vehicle charging points would be available. Paul stated that there were no objections from Highways officers with regards to this application, and WBC had requested a commuted sum in lieu of on-site affordable housing, however they were exploring options with affordable housing companies and were open to providing on-site affordable housing units.


Sarah Kerr, Ward Member, spoke in objection to the application. Sarah stated that she had been notified that many properties within this core employment area had been, or were in the process of being, converted to residential properties. Sarah added that there was a rapid rate of office to residential conversions in this area, and as this application was not under permitted development WBC could do something to retain the core employment space. Sarah was of the opinion that just because other units in the area had been converted into residential properties, this should not mean that WBC should grant planning permission against policy. Sarah stated that there were issues in the area with local amenities, including lack of doctors’ surgery capacity. Sarah added that the nearest playing field was not accessible from Fishponds Lane, and should the application be granted then affordable housing should be provided on site.


Dianne King, Ward Member, spoke in objection to the application. Dianne stated that she had originally thought that this application was a good use of a previous office space. However, since visiting the business park Dianne felt that a residential development would be a strange and unpleasant place to live as it was surrounded by large office buildings. Dianne added that should this application be approved, it was likely to be used as a precedent for similar applications. Dianne stated that should this business park be considered as a residential estate, then proper amenities and infrastructure needed to be delivered. Dianne urged the Committee to refuse the application.


Simon Weeks commented that permitted development conversions attracted no affordable housing, had restrictive conditions for the Council to apply, had a generally lower living and amenity space and had lower levels of provision of parking spaces. Simon added that as this was not a permitted development conversion, this development would give the Council more control and provided a higher quality development for residents.


Carl Doran queried why an off-site affordable housing contribution was considered acceptable, as it needed to be robustly justified. Carl was of the opinion that WBC were wrong for requesting a commuted sum. Simon Weeks suggested that an informative be added suggesting that WBC and the applicant re-engage in talks to provide on-site affordable housing and clarifying the Committee’s preference for provision of on-site affordable housing. This proposal was carried and added to the list of informatives as set out within the officer recommendation.


Andrew Mickleburgh raised a number of concerns with this application, including design and amenity issues, a greater bulk than surrounding buildings, overlooking of surrounding buildings, lack of soft landscaping and a greater resident density than surrounding conversions. Andrew was of the opinion that this was a case of overdevelopment in the area, and additional infrastructure and facilities such as schools and doctors’ surgeries were required should this level of development continue. Simon Weeks commented that this application attracted a CIL payment, which could provide facilities and infrastructure within the area.


Stephen Conway stated that should this application be approved, it would mark a permanent loss in office space within the core employment area. Simon Weeks commented that there was approximately 84,000m2 of vacant office space within the Borough. Stephen added that he supported the idea of on-site affordable housing.


Rachelle Shepherd-DuBey commented that this type of application was preferable to a permitted development conversion as it attracted affordable housing. Rachelle stated that the core employment area was seemingly not in great demand, and supported proposals for on-site affordable housing.


Angus Ross stated that the application site was relatively close to playing fields, and queried whether pedestrian permeability could be added to the south wall of the site. Simon Weeks suggested that this be added as an informative, suggesting that the applicant endeavours to provide pedestrian permeability to the south wall of the site leading to the nearby playing fields. This proposal was carried and added to the list of informatives as set out within the officer recommendation.


Gary Cowan commented that a residential and industrial mix can work well if properly implemented. Gary added that the site was near the town centre with good accessibility, and supported the affordable housing and connectivity informatives.


Malcolm Richards queried whether the road was wide enough to allow for large vehicles such as refuse or emergency vehicles adequate space in order to enter and exit the development. Judy Kelly, Highways Development Manager, stated that Fishpond Road was 7.5m, with the other connecting road being 6m wide. Both roads were adequate to accommodate large vehicles.


Abdul Loyes queried whether this building would be higher than existing properties. Simon Taylor, Case Officer, stated that the proposed development would be 12.5m high whereas other properties were 14m high. Simon added that the property would have more bulk than existing properties but it would not be out of character.


Chris Bowring queried if an office building was approved and built, whether the building could then be converted to residential through permitted development. Marcia Head, Development Management Team Leader, stated that a newly office block would not get permitted development rights.


Carl Doran queried whether on-site affordable housing could be conditioned. Marcia Head stated that Recommendation A could be changed to remove the reference to an off-site commuted sum and instead to read: “A legal agreement to secure affordable housing and an employment skills plan”. The applicant verbally confirmed that this was agreeable. This amendment to the recommendation was moved, seconded and carried.


RESOLVED That application number 192312 be approved, subject to conditions and informatives as set out in agenda pages 144 to 148, correction to condition 9 as set out in the Members’ Update, two additional informatives as resolved by the Committee, and alteration to Recommendation A as resolved by the Committee.

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