D-day approaches at the Kennet Centre, aka Eagle Quarter.

The revised plans for the wholesale redevelopment of this site, which you can see here, were submitted to WBC in September 2023. At the same time, an appeal into the refusal of the previous iteration was withdrawn by the applicant, Lochailort. This was to have been heard in early October with judgement due about a month later. In such cases, the loser is presented with a bill often running into six figures. By launching the appeal, Lochailort has already incurred costs which it can’t now directly recover. By withdrawing it, WBC has been spared the financial risk of losing. This poker game could re-commence if the latest application is refused.

Something is going to happen to the Kennet Centre: the questions are what, how and when.


The what can be be taken from the application’s summary: “Full planning permission for the redevelopment of the Kennet Centre comprising the partial demolition of the existing building on site and the development of new residential dwellings (Use Class C3) and residents’ ancillary facilities; commercial, business and service floorspace including office (Class E (a, b, c, d, e, f, and g)); access, parking, and cycle parking; landscaping and open space; sustainable energy installations; associated works, and alterations to the retained Vue Cinema and multi storey car park.” A more digestible and pictorial version of this bald statement can be seen by looking at the project’s website.

Not everyone agrees with the plans. The main opponent has been the Newbury Society, which exists “to promote interest in the history of Newbury and its surrounding parishes and to act as a civic forum for discussion of matters which may affect the town’s heritage.” A summary of its position on this application can be seen here. A petition opposing the scheme has gathered over a thousand signatures.

The principal differences between the two points of view can be summed up in one word: “size.” There are other issues as well but size is the big one.

A scheme of this nature needs to be on a certain scale to pay back the costs. There’s no point pretending commercial realities would be satisfied by a park and some three-bed homes, even assuming that’s what this area needs. It’s going to have to go upwards. But how far?

It’s smaller than it was. The original version went up to eleven storeys but the highest is now eight. The Newbury Society has said that “up to six storeys” would be acceptable. Locailort’s MD, Hugo Haig, while conceding that “it is taller than this on parts of Blocks A, B and S,” stressed that “the majority of the scheme is six storeys or less – so meeting the Newbury Society’s requirements, as far as we can.” He also points out that “the tallest block facing Bartholomew Street has been reduced from six storeys to five following a request from WBC councillors.” One floor has also been lopped off the multi-storey car park.

There’s a big subjective aspect to this. Height alone isn’t the only factor. Delicately tapering cathedral spires the equivalent of twelve storeys high would be more acceptable to many than a brutalist slab of only five. So, does what’s proposed suit the town-centre? Last month, Historic England felt that it wouldn’t, suggesting that the plans “would be out of scale with the historic town centre and adversely affect a number of key views, harming the significance of the conservation area and many of the listed buildings within it.”

On the other hand, the project seems to provide compensating advantages. These include 426 flats, retail and hospitality units and, as Lochailort has pointed out, “the equivalent of circa 2.4 acres of open space, whereas currently the whole site is completely covered by the existing shopping centre.” The new plans also open up a north-south route through the site which currently doesn’t exist (though doubtless did once).

Lochailort stresses that it has received “many positive responses to our proposals from members of the public who are keen to see this down-at-heel part of Newbury revived with new homes, shops, cafes, restaurants and open spaces” and adds that a number of “significant changes have been discussed at length with WBC officers and members.”

The Newbury Society admitted that “most of the amended street-frontage designs for Cheap Street and Bartholomew Street included in the previous scheme, prepared by the Robert Adam architectural consultancy, have been included in the present scheme and are a significant improvement on the designs originally put forward.” This suggests some meeting of minds on important points.

The housing aspect is the one that causes me the most disquiet. For developments that have for-sale dwellings, 30% must be affordable or social-rent on brownfield sites. The various national and local policies on rental-only development – as this will be, at least for the first seven years – seem rather less clear and varies between 10% and nothing. The developers’ current promise of 21 such dwellings is more like 4.5%.  However, the Newbury Society points out that these are, “subject to viability.” This refers to viability assessments, used by developers to prove that, if certain conditions are enforced, the development is no longer do-able at a reasonable rate of profit.

This can also apply to the various sustainable features. These are harder to measure than matters of height or number of homes of whatever kind. Hugo Haig draws attention to the “highly sustainable and exceptional green credentials of the scheme.” It’s to be hoped that these will survive into the final results.


The how it will be decided is easier to summarise. There are two immediate options.

Either the planning officers will refuse the application, in which case Lochailort will almost certainly appeal. The other is that they recommend approval in which case, as it has received more than ten objections, the matter will come before the Western Area Planning Committee. At this event, everyone will have a chance to have their say according to a process which, based on the ones I’ve covered, seems to work pretty well.

If it’s refused then it might go to the District Planning Committee. A refusal at either stage will, as with a refusal by officers, lead to an appeal: back to square one, in other words: but, unlike in Monopoly, without anyone collecting a wallet-full of cash. Rather the reverse, in fact.

If it is approved, it will be with a raft of conditions. This is where the fun starts as every one of these needs either to be discharged (accepted has having been fulfilled) or set aside (such as by viability assessments). Given the scale of the project, this will take many years. Like two exhausted boxers or two wily poker players – or perhaps a bit of both – the participants will each be trying to accomplish, in WBC’s case, something as close as possible to what it approved and, in Lochailort’s, something profitable and a showcase for its future schemes. These two objectives may at times diverge. The trick, for both sides, is to get what they want without more friction than is inevitable.


As for the when, this process will probably start in early 2024 with a decision by the planners as to which way they want to jump. If it goes through the committee process, even allowing for two meetings, one would expect something by February or March. If it goes to appeal, or a new application, your guess is as good as mine.

One thing’s for sure: delay isn’t benefitting anyone. The Kennet Centre as it stands is doing neither Newbury nor Lochailort any good. WBC will not want the discussions, with all the cost in officers’ time, to continue for much longer. For Lochailort, construction costs are rising so an early start date is to be welcomed. Anyone who lives or works in the immediate area, or is planning to do so, will find the uncertainty increasingly unwelcome. Those who shop in Newbury will feel that something better could be provided – and not just better (almost anything would pass that test) but significantly better; something that will stand the test of time and help enhance the centre of what is already a vibrant, successful and attractive town.

Good or bad?

Do these proposals pass this test?

I think, on fine balance, that they do. There are uncertainties about housing tenures. There are concerns, as both parties seem to recognise, about the number of car-parking spaces. There are disagreements about height, on which a complete accord between the aesthetic requirements of the Newbury Society and the commercial ones of the developers is probably unachievable.

On the other hand, the project as it’s currently expressed seems imaginative and attractive. I like the proposal of short-term office space, the opening up of a currently closed space and the idea of more people living in the town centre. All of these points and more will need to be weighed up by the decision-makers, whoever they prove to be. Their decision will determine the nature of the centre of Newbury for generations to come.

I’d also add two other points. The Newbury Society was formed in 1973, when work on the Kennet Centre was already underway. Aspects of Newbury’s heritage were destroyed by this, as were those of many other towns. Perhaps this was why the Newbury Society was created. I salute and respect its aims. However, that old part of the town is gone for good. We are where we are. The question is whether this proposal destroys or over-dominates what’s left or whether it improves the town as it now is.

The other is that Lochailort is probably here to stay. Having bought the Kennet Centre (the week before Covid landed), the company has serious skin in the game. Even if it could sell the moribund site without planning permission, who’s to say that any future proposal won’t be even less acceptable? We’re not talking about a greenfield site which, if permission were refused, can be land-banked for a decade or left untouched for good. This site has to be re-developed, and soon. On that point, all parties seem to agree.

The perfect is ever the enemy of the good. No one’s going to get exactly what they want from this. The question is whether this is the best they can expect. I feel that this, or something very like it, probably is. The objectors, particularly Newbury Town Council and the Newbury Society, have made their points well and accomplished some of the results they wanted. In the first round, WBC’s planners sided with them. Subsequent revisions and discussions have produced compromises. Is this the best the town and the developers can get? We shall see before too long…

Brian Quinn