A historic former hardware store has been saved from demolition, with councillors rejecting a plan to build 44 flats.

Plans to replace the old Drews Ironmongers building on 71-73 Caversham Road with 44 flats were recommended for approval by Reading Borough Council (RBC) planning officers.

But the council’s Planning Applications committee unanimously rejected the plan on Wednesday (October 7) due to concerns about the loss of the locally listed heritage asset and the height of the proposed seven-storey building.

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Councillor Tony Page, lead member for Planning at RBC, slammed the developer for “belittling” the building and “exaggerating the difficulties of retaining its external features”.

More than a thousand people had signed a petition from the Bell Tower Community Association (BTCA) opposing the plan.

David Neale, representing BTCA, said at the meeting: “We understand the need for development in the area but not at any cost.

“It is the surrounding building that needs replacing not the landmark…You can’t replace heritage. Once it’s gone it’s gone.”

Sam Berg, agent for the applicant, said it would be “practically impossible” to retain the building and bring forward a plan including affordable housing.

He said the building has “effectively come to the end of its natural life”.

But councillor Karen Rowland, lead member for Heritage, said the building could easily be converted into housing and converting warehouses is “quite the trend across the country”.

She said the building is a “rare child” in Reading because other malting buildings have been lost.

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While councillors praised the design of the proposed seven-storey building, they said it is too tall for the area and would have an overbearing impact.

Councillor Tony Page, lead member for Planning said whatever is approved on this site “will set the benchmark” for adjoining planned developments, with similar size developments likely to follow.

The former Drews site, including 71-73 Caversham Road and the smaller Malthouse and Brewery buildings on Northfield Road, were all locally listed by the council in February.

Drews the Ironmongers stopped trading in December 2018, after running for 87 years.

The buildings were originally built for the purposes of malting in the 19th century and contain features notable to the area and the industry such as patterned brickwork and decorative arches.

The original owner, Henry Pendlebury Dowson, was a notable local businessman and maltster who owned two other malthouses in Reading.