Following the 8-day public inquiry into Thames Water’s appeal against Reading Borough Council’s decision to reject their application to develop the Bath Road Reservoir site, the Inspector’s decision was announced today. She dismissed both appeals, concluding that the benefits of the proposed scheme would not ‘outweigh the harm to the character and appearance of the site and the wider area’, citing in particular the ‘significant mass’ of the 3 and 4 storey buildings which would ‘sit uncomfortably within the development’; that the setting of the heritage assets would be unacceptably harmed, and that the proposal failed to ‘preserve the special architectural and historic interest of the listed building’.
Mel Woodward, of the Save the Bath Road Reservoir campaign group said: “We are delighted with the news and hope that after this further rejection Thames Water will finally take a step back and engage with local residents to come up with an acceptable proposal for this site. We are not opposed to redevelopment of the site but it should aim to fit in with the character of the local area rather than draw the maximum profit possible.”
Fellow campaigner Graham Griffiths added: “With the new Localism Bill imminent, we hope that Thames Water will be a pioneering influence by drawing up some new, more sympathetic plans together with local residents. The site is highly valued and treasured by the local community and any development must take their views into account.”
The STBRR group sustainability advisor Phil Birch stated: “This is an interesting lesson for all involved, it shows the importance of fighting for what you believe in but also to do it in the correct manner. Picket signs and protests are no use without logic and knowledge. The irony is that if Thames Water had worked with the community and not against it, a solution agreeable to all could have been found.”
Local Neighbourhood Watch Coordinator Peter Finnan said: ‘This should never have gone to appeal in the first place. It was a disgraceful waste of community money and we hope that Thames Water will finally see sense and go back to the drawing board.”
Reading West MP, Alok Sharma, who has campaigned over the past three years with the Save the Bath Road Reservoir Campaign Group and local residents, against Thames Water’s proposals commented: “This fantastic decision is a victory for localism and for common sense and I want to pay tribute to the professionalism and perseverance of the Save The Bath Road Reservoir Campaign Group who have worked so diligently over the past years to protect this valuable ‘green lung’ in the centre of our town. Reading Borough Council also deserves praise for the manner in which they have approached this issue and the support of our local Reading papers and other media has been invaluable in keeping this issue in the public eye .”
Alok concluded:“I hope that Thames Water finally understands that they cannot ride roughshod over the views of my constituents and if they continue to want to develop on this green space they will need to consult in a meaningful way with local residents.”
The proposed development plans included 96 dwellings plus the conversion and an out-of-character extension of the Grade II listed Water Tower into offices. It involved the removal of all the embankment and the complete flattening of the site and the construction of up to 4 storey high buildings which would have dwarfed and overshadowed the surrounding properties. The character of the area would have been permanently changed.
The proposal was unanimously rejected by Reading Borough Council’s planning committee to a packed Council chamber on 4th October 2009 and has had clear widespread public and political opposition since initial plans were put forward in December 2007.