Northcourt Avenue Residents’ Association (NARA) chair Simone Illger told Reading Borough Council (RBC) that the Christchurch Green in Reading was being “devastated” by unsympathetic development, at the planning applications committee on 15 January. RBC nonetheless approved the change of use of the ground floor 60 Christchurch Road from a dry cleaners into a restaurant, saying that their own local plan didn’t allow them to choose otherwise.
The Christchurch shopping parade already includes Gregg’s bakers, the Kung Fu Kitchen, Domino’s Pizza and the Sizzling Spice restaurant. RBC gave permission for the conversion of the former bank at 76 Christchurch Road into a takeaway cafe and HMO in December; this means that, after the latest approval, six of the 13 shops in the parade will be selling food.
RBC had refused an application to change the use of 60 Christchurch Road to a food outlet in February 2019 because the local plan in effect at the time didn’t allow for it. The local plan adopted by the council in November 2019 now allows for such a change of use.
“This local plan of November 2019 offers no protection to the continued destruction of Christchurch shopping parade and the surrounding neighbourhood,” Simone Illger told the council’s planning committee. “When this scheme was refused in February 2019, planning officers said it would not maintain the vitality and viability of this local centre and the loss of a shop unit would have a detrimental effect on the diversity of the area.”
“Changes made… to the local plan at the end of last year mean the scheme is now recommended without change for approval… Local residents are already suffering from noise and disturbance from oversized delivery HGVs as well as vehicles and customers visiting fast food restaurants at often antisocial hours.”
“There is no… legal delivery bay for vehicles to make drop-offs to shops and restaurants without bringing Christchurch Road to a standstill,” said Simone Illger. “This once lovely area is being devastated. The local character of Christchurch Green is fast changing, driven by the growing transient student population, former family homes being converted into HMOs, and landlords who have little or no interest in their detrimental effect on long-term residents.”
“Christchurch Green is looking increasingly neglected, especially in comparison to neighbouring conservation areas at the Mount and Redlands. This needs to be urgently addressed before things get to the point of becoming irreversible.”
Responses from councillors
Councillor Tony Page said that the council’s new local plan implemented national government policy on permitted development, and the consequences were not limited to Reading. He added that the council recognised changing retail practices in local centres, and that the Christchurch parade had always been “lively” with a long-standing student population and consequent complaints, especially about parking.
Councillor Josh Williams said that the national change that mandated alterations to the local plan which allowed this new development to happen didn’t “let the local plan off the hook.”
“If there was a test for the local plan that it should be clear, concise and easily understood by residents, then it probably fails in this area,” he said. “When we are next able to refresh our local plan, we could do more to make [it] deliver what residents want, and in an understandable way.”
“If I thought this could be refused, and that refusal would stand up on appeal, then I would recommend a refusal, but the officers have laid out the details of the planning law, and I can’t see a way through that.”
Councillor Karen Rowland agreed that they couldn’t refuse the application, adding that the change to the local plan was intended to revitalise local centres.
Councillors unanimously approved the decision to change the use of 60 Christchurch Road to a café or restaurant (A3 use), subject to discharging conditions on kitchen odours and the noise of development detailed in the planning officer’s report.
- Planning applications committee papers and webcast
- Planning applications 190760 & 190929 for 76 Christchurch Road
- Planning applications 181571 & 191755 for 60 Christchurch Road
- New Local Plan
- The changing nature of Christchurch Green
- University neighbours are fed up with parking problems, HMOs, litter and public disturbance