Campaigners have hit out at the council’s efforts to preserve a grade I listed building.
Reading Borough Council (RBC) announced last month it would carry out urgent repairs to Chazey Farm Barn and charge the owner if no action was taken to reverse the deterioration of the historic structure.
Campaigners say the threat of an urgent works notice has come too late.
But RBC says it is now in negotiations with the barn’s leaseholder to organise a schedule of repairs that will “go beyond the scope” of what is covered by an urgent works notice.
“Much of the damage could have been avoided”
Chazey Barn was built in the 17th century and forms part of an ancient farmstead with elements dating back to the Norman period.
It is one of six Grade I listed buildings in Reading and has been on the Heritage at Risk Register for many years.
Robert O’Neill, a committee member of the Warren and District Residents Association, said: “Had they looked at the whole security of this farm years ago and then acted to bring in enforcement, much of the damage to this building could have been avoided and the cost and trouble caused could have been lessened.
“Prosperous times could have aided the adoption of this site to a welcomed community benefit.”
Helen Lambert, chair of Caversham and District Residents Association, added: “CADRA has spent many hours over many years pressing for action.”
Why has the council not taken action yet?
An urgent works notice is generally restricted to repairs to keep a building wind and weather-proof and safe from collapse or action to prevent vandalism or theft.
Councillor Tony Page, lead member for strategic environment, planning and transport, said the council held back from serving the urgent works notice because the leaseholder said it was interested in carrying out the repairs.
He sadded: “It is of course disappointing that two months on the works have still not been carried out but officers are now in dialogue themselves with the leaseholder.”
Nursing home in a secluded barn? “Barking idea”
A 78-bedroom nursing home was approved at the site in the mid-1990s.
Cllr Page said the plan was approved by RBC at the time because it would allow the barn “to be brought back into beneficial use”.
He added that a nursing home is a less intensive use of a site than homes.
Richard Bennett, chair of Reading Civic Society, said: “We understand the need to find a solution for the site and the barn but a nursing home at the end of a long narrow road a couple of miles away from “civilisation” was always a barking idea.
“Reading Civic Society, CADRA and Warren and District Residents Association totally opposed the planning application.
“Unsurprisingly the original company went bust and now another has taken up the challenge but has clearly not found it easy to take forward and there had been no action at all on the site despite promises.
“We have for several years been encouraging RBC to take this action but totally understand the challenge, so their final warning letter is welcomed.
“The barn however needs a sympathetic and practical use and finding that is a challenge.”
Cllr Page said the council is now looking at works to bring the barn back into use so it can be cared for on a long-term basis.
By Tevye Markson, Local Democracy Reporting Service