A MISSING document could hold the key to a planning decision which could have “enormous implications”, a councillor has claimed.

Plans to demolish the former print works of Newbury Weekly News and build a block of flats were thrown out last month on a technicality. If approved, offices and 71 flats could have been built on Faraday Road, Newbury. 

But planning permission was refused on February 5 by the western area planning committee, at West Berkshire Council. Now, the vice chair of that committee wants to re-open the decision, claiming a key document was withheld from the process.

Legal advice given to the developer about the sequential test — a technical policy that tries to steer new developments to places with low flooding risk — was withheld from the public and the planning committee, according to Councillor Tony Vickers (Lib Dem, Wash Common).

He said that legal advice had been with council planners for more than three months, who should have given it to councillors, press and the public; but did not. 

On February 4, the agent for the applicant, Steven Smallman, emailed councillors the document. But Cllr Clive Hooker (Con, Downlands), chair of the planning committee, said this could not be taken into account in the decision as it was submitted too late. 

Now, Cllr Vickers has written to Sarah Clarke, the senior solicitor at the council, to ask for her legal opinion. 

He said: “It is not so much that this seemed to us to be an important piece of evidence; but that even the most trivial correspondence on a planning application is normally placed on file — yet this one wasn’t.

“In all my 15 years as a member of planning committees, I have never come across anything like this.”

Cllr Vickers wanted to postpone the decision, to allow more time to take the legal advice into account. He said that could still be possible. 

He added: “I hold no brief for the applicant in this case. I just want to know why this document wasn’t on file, and why the planning department continues to behave as though it doesn’t exist.”

West Berkshire Council did not respond to a request for comment by the time of publishing. 

During the meeting on February 5, Cllr Vickers said refusing planning permission would have “enormous implications for the whole of Newbury”. 

The site is part of the London Road Industrial Estate — which the council has wanted to regenerate since 2005, but has been held back by legal issues.