A plan to convert offices in Reading town centre into 144 apartments has been described as providing ‘rabbit hutches’ rather than houses.
Earlier this year, developers Tene Living won an appeal to convert existing offices into one bedroom studio apartments.
Although the office conversion was rejected by the council’s planning department last year over concerns about noise disturbance and contamination, Tene Living successfully appealed to the Government planning inspectorate, which granted planning permission on May 26.
Recently, the decision has been blasted by councillor Tony Page who called the studio apartments in the plan ‘rabbit hutches’.
Cllr Page (Labour, Abbey) the deputy leader of the council, also savaged the government policy of allowing office conversions to housing coming under permitted development rights.
He said: “The application that has been granted is for 144 rabbit hutches, euphemistically described as studio apartments.
“These have been secured courtesy of the late unlamented Eric Pickles, who pushed through a change which enables owners of properties to be able to convert them to residential without going through the full planning process and this results in the sort of sub-standard development we see here.
“Had this been a proper planning application whether we would have agreed 144 studio apartments -we certainly wouldn’t have- we would’ve insisted on a mixed development of accommodation but nonetheless there would be a substantial contribution to meet our policy requirment of 30 per cent to affordable housing if not on site then certainly off site.
“But thanks to Mr Pickles, and thanks to the coalition government and thanks to successive Tory governments we have been deprived now over the period since 2013 of nearly £10 million of contributions towards essential infrastructure and we have been deprived of hundreds of affordable housing units.”
Cllr Page added future occupants of Soane Point would be ‘inmates’.
Interior plans show each room having a double bed, ensuite shower toilet, and wardrobes, with some flats including space for desks and chairs.
Eric Pickles was the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government from 2010-2015.
He introduced the policy of classifying office conversions to residential accommodation as permitted development in 2013, meaning planning authorities can only reject conversions in limited circumstances.
Lord Pickles is now 70 years old, serving as Conservative MP for Brentwood and Ongar from 1992-2017, he was made a Lord in 2018.
Cllr Page made his statements at a council planning meeting on Wednesday, June 22.
On the other hand, Peter Lawson, of Turley planning consultants, agents for Tene Living, argued the development would ‘add to the vitality and viability’ of the town centre by converting ‘tired’ offices into self-contained, affordable, and conveniently located apartments.
Mr Lawson also argued there is market demand for independent accommodation post Covid-19 pandemic, with the studio apartments being well suited to young professionals, students or those with long-term health conditions where shared accommodation might present a particular risk.
Work can begin on the conversion now following approval from the planning inspecorate.
You can view the scheme by typing reference 210478 into the council’s planning portal.