A planning application (reference number 20/02253/FUL) has been made for a change of use at Mabberley’s in East Garston, the details of which can be seen here. Currently a training yard, recently it has been largely untenanted. This has led the owners to decide that a change of use to small office units (Class B1) would be preferable.
As part of the application, a report was commissioned from TYTO Consultancy into the future equestrian viability of Mabberleys. The report (which can be viewed on the WBC site) lists four reasons why its outlook for these purposes was ‘limited’: poor access to gallops, proximity to the cold and damp air from the river, the limitations of the layout and the lack of market demand. It adds that Mabberleys ‘does not have a reputation as a successful or lucky yard’: in a famously superstitious industry, this might test just as high as the other factors.
The proposed plans don’t show any change to the footprint of the buildings and it would appear that the conversion work would not entail lengthy or disruptive work. As the design and access statement admits, two of the units were already fitted out for office use when it became clear that planning approval was required, whereupon the work stopped and this application was lodged.
Aside from the fact that the flooding risk seems to have been under-stated (though would be a problem for the owners and their tenants rather than for anyone else in the village) the application seems reasonable in all respects bar one. This is the access which, under these plans, would still be onto Front Street. This road is narrow and and the entrance is near a 90 degree turn and a bridge. The nearest route out of the village, and the one most used by traffic, is then the turning by the Queens Arms which is fairly dangerous at the best of times. Then there’s the matter of the sewage pumping station, also reached by the turning by the Queens and Front Street. As residents will be vividly aware, the well-publicised problems with the local sewer network mean that tanker lorries come and go fairly constantly when the groundwater is high. Although Thames Water has promised to fix this problem, the solution has so far proved elusive. It would be wise to assume that the lorries will be around for a few more years yet.
As is common with such applications, predictions are made as to current and future traffic movements and it’s here that the design and access statement appears to enter the world of fantasy. Once completed and tenanted, the stated assumption is that the office users’ vehicular movements would be limited to two per office per day: in other words, there would only be one occupant per office, or if more than one that they would all arrive and leave together or that they wouldn’t use a car; no departures for meals or meetings during the day; and no deliveries. This doesn’t seem very likely.
As for the current usage, the document offers an impressive but hypothetical list of traffic movements based on ‘a working yard of this size’ which includes assumptions such as two vets and two blacksmiths visiting daily. In all, the document asserts, nearly 30 people are in and out each day, as well as ‘up to 30’ owners and syndicate members – over 100 vehicular movements on busy days. The reality is that nothing like that level of activity has been seen at Mabberley’s in recent years, and perhaps ever. The above-mentioned TYTO report undermines any suggestion that these figures might be realised if Mabberleys were to be let as a racing yard in the future. For the last year or so a more honest figure for the traffic movements would be close to zero.
The conversion is thus highly likely to lead to significantly more vehicle movements not, as the document claims, significantly less.
There’s an easy solution to this and one that’s been pointed out by all the letters of objection received so far. A straight and wide path runs from the eastern edge of the site to the bottom road (Newbury Street), just beyond the bus stop. West Berkshire Council’s (WBC) Highways Department could hardly object – this very access road was a condition of the original planning application in the 1980s. For whatever reason, this condition was never enforced. It needs to be enforced now: moreover, it should be the first thing built so that any construction lorries can use this rather than going through the village.
Whether or not this is a first step towards an ultimate conversion to housing (which some feel the village needs) and what the owners would do were the application to be refused are separate matters. WBC can only consider the application that’s in front of it. This would be an ideal opportunity to insist upon the outstanding matter of the access route. If that can be addressed, I for one would have no objection to the application as it’s currently expressed. If it is passed on these terms I’d like to wish the new owners every success with their new venture.
If you wish to write in support or in opposition to all or any aspects of the application, see the ‘information’ section of the this page on WBC’s planning portal. These need to be received by the determination date of 27 November 2020. If more than ten objections are received, the application will be decided at a meeting of the Western Area Planning Committee: if neither of these things happen, it will be decided by West Berkshire Council’s planning officers.
The image at the head of this post has been taken from the application’s design and access statement which uses aerial photography from Google Earth.