The following statement was received from Lib Dem Councillor Tony Vickers on 9 March 2020 as is reprinted here verbatim.
A senior Lib Dem councillor is seeking to re-open a planning decision supposedly made by West Berkshire Council over a month ago in its Western Area Planning Committee. The application was for demolition of the former print works of Newbury Weekly News at Faraday Road, Newbury and its replacement with a block of flats.
Cllr Tony Vickers, who is Vice Chair of the committee, claims that councillors were denied access to a key document setting out the Applicant’s legal advice, which had been with Council planners for over three months but not placed on file. Councillors only learned of its existence the day before the committee met on 5th February, in an email they were sent by the Planning Agent for the newspaper’s owners, the Applicants.
Cllr Vickers objected before and at the meeting to the fact that councillors were told they couldn’t take the contents of the document into account and has since written formally to the Council’s senior solicitor to ask for her Legal Opinion on the matter. “It is not so much that this seemed to us to be an important piece of evidence but that even the most trivial correspondence on a planning application is normally placed on file, yet this one wasn’t,” said Cllr Vickers. “In all my 15 years as a member of planning committees, I have never come across anything like this.”
At the time of writing, a formal Decision Notice has not been received by the applicant’s agent Steven Smallman of Pro-Vision, nor is there a copy on the Council website.
“I had hoped that the matter could have been deferred and brought back to committee as soon as planners had a chance to set out their reasons for disagreeing with the Applicant,” said Cllr Vickers. “Maybe that is still possible. It was initially what the Planning Portfolio holder herself, Cllr Hilary Cole, wanted. So I was very surprised when she was the committee member who proposed we refused the application when we had not been given a chance to study both sides of the question.
“I hold no brief for the Applicant in this case. I just want to know why this document wasn’t on file and why the Planning Department continues to behave as though it doesn’t exist. And I want to avoid an expensive and time-consuming appeal.”
The image is © Newbury Today and shows an artist’s impression of the proposed design. This appeared in an article regarding the application published in Newbury Today on 31 Jan 2020.