Bricks and Mortar: It's time Berkeley Homes listened

By David Howell   |   Planning and property correspondent   |
Tuesday 14th July 2020 10:15 am
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The Woolmead rubble mound, as pictured from the air by Allan Arthurs/Media Techniche Ltd ()

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THIS week I thought it would be interesting to look at where we are with residential developments in Farnham.

All the various developers were reluctant to respond to my emails asking for statements, so I am reporting on what one can see rather than what I have been told.

* Folly Heights

Folly Heights is, I am afraid, becoming what everyone in Farnham knew it would be – a blot on the landscape. The inspector was, I maintain, completely wrong in allowing this development. You will recall the appeal was allowed as a result of the former Waverley Conservative administration rendering the Neighbourhood Plan out of date. Bewley Homes sold on the development opportunity to CALA Homes, which made a few tweaks to the approval and started building. The original approval includes a new roundabout access. Why? Don’t ask…

Surrey’s highways officers appear to have been walked all over and it required the residents’ associations for Park View and Upper Old Park Lane to have them realise there were serious flaws in the proposed roundabout, although they remain stubbornly reluctant to accept it. What’s new about Surrey highways?

* Abbey View

Taylor Wimpey appears to have gone up a gear since last time I looked, with work at the ineptly-named Abbey View continuing apace. Can you see Waverley Abbey from there? Walking on the footpath north of the development, you realise what a wonderful position the houses facing north have. I still think the quality of the materials, bricks and roof coverings let down the external appearance of the development. A real missed opportunity.

* Lionsgate

Talking of quality, three weeks ago I mentioned the Lionsgate development on the former Swain & Jones sales forecourt in East Street was available for viewing, and I was invited to look around a couple of the apartments last week.

I used the word ‘luxury’. Well, there are many areas and elements where that is an understatement.

The development has taken far longer than anticipated but it has been worth the wait. One of the penthouse apartments was occupied last week, the other is under offer as I draft this report.

I am told by the agents Andrew Lodge there is a respectable amount of interest in the other 12 apartments. Viewing by appointment.

The thing that hit me most about the development was the space and the size of the rooms. Even the smaller of the two apartments I went into had large rooms with high ceilings.

The penthouse under offer has a living room no less than an enormous, 6.8m by 6.8m maximum, 420 square feet, 39 square metres. To put that in perspective, some 23 of the flats in Brightwells each have a footprint of 41 square metres total.

The kitchens and bathrooms in the Lionsgate apartments were sharp but luxurious including the flooring, with no expense spared. I particularly liked the inset lion and development name in the generous reception area.

* The Woolmead

Just along the road from Lionsgate is the Woolmead. What will become of that now?

I do hope Berkeley Homes decides to build out the scheme it has planning permission for. Going on the construction programme they talked about at the time of the 2018 approval, the flats and retail units would become available when we are well on the way to recovery, 2022/23, although I question whether there will be a demand for retail space.

I see five options being open to Berkeley Homes:

* Do nothing and leaving the site until the market for retail improves, which could be five years or more.

* Build out according to the existing approval.

* Appeal the refusal to reduce the number of car-parking spaces and, if successful, build out.

* Revisit the proposals removing the retail element and use the space for parking, reducing the need to excavate to create underground parking.

* Sell on the development to another developer to reconsider the proposals.

Option four would be my preferred choice. Yes, a year’s delay, leaving the site looking unattractive, but something positive would be happening which I feel sure residents would support. Also, I understand that, as a result of the pandemic, the demand for flats has reduced and the demand for larger spaces has increased. We want a successful, quality development.

It’s time for developers to listen to us, the residents.

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