Planning Application to Convert Boatyard into Home for Vintage Boat Collection Refused

The planning application to convert the old Hobbs boatyard on the Wargrave Road into a new home for the Rose Toop vintage boat collection has been refused by Wokingham Borough Council (WBC).

The site was acquired by Adam Toop from Hobbs of Henley in October 2020.  He planned to make a substantial investment to redevelop the site which would see the unattractive agricultural barns converted into a glass fronted, wooden clad building that would display this beautiful and significant collection of vintage boats and associated artefacts.

The 37 boat and river artefact collection, dating from 1890-1940, was started by Bill and Penny Rose from Shiplake in the 1960s.  Adam invested and became custodian of the Rose Collection in 2011.

The decision notice states that “the proposal is inappropriate development in the Green Belt that would have a greater and detrimental impact on the openness of Green Belt by reason the intensification of the use, increase in built form and resulting in a prominent urbanising development. Insufficient information has been provided to satisfy the Authority (Environmental Agency) that the development would not lead to an unacceptable impact on flood risk. The proposed development and alterations to the riverbank will harm this priority habitat and insufficient information has been submitted demonstrating the proposal would protect or enhance this habitat of principal importance.”

The application received over 120 letters of support including Sir Steve Redgrave (Chair of Henley Royal Regatta), David Worthington (Chair of the Trustees at the River & Rowing Museum), David Barker (HM Swan Marker), Mike Sweeney (President of Leander Club) and John Skuse (Chairman of The River Thames Society).

Sir Steve said, “Henley Royal Regatta is pleased to support the planning application to redevelop the Hobbs Wargrave Road boatyard. In addition to creating an attractive building in a historic riverside setting, the project secures the long term survival of this important Henley boatyard, together with the important associated skills and employment. We are delighted to learn that a past Henley Royal Regatta Umpire’s Launch, Arethusa, will be part of the Rose Toop Collection. The fact that Arethusa will be on display is even more significant given she was built in 1921 by Hobbs & Sons, who formerly owned the boatyard.”

The application was decided by the Planning Officer Marcia Head, under delegated powers and not discussed at a Planning Committee meeting. The response from the Environmental Agency dated 16 November was not shared with Adam Toop and was uploaded onto the Planning portal on the same date as the decision in December.  In the EA letter it stated that “To overcome our objection, the applicant should submit a revised FRA (Flood Risk Assessment) which addresses the points” stated and submit “measures to ensure protection (of habitat) and enhancement of the river in this location”.

On the decision notice, it states, “On this particular application, no pre-application advice was sought before the application was submitted. As the proposal was clearly contrary to the provisions of the Development Plan, it was considered that further discussions would be unnecessary and costly for all parties.”  Adam Toop has shared his pre-planning application advice documents with the Herald that confirm he did seek advice and he confirms that amendments were made to the plans on this advice that included the reduction of the overall floor size, the workshop moved next to the main building, removal of retractable canopies on the moorings and hedging and trees added around car park to improve landscape.

Adam said, “I imagine general unhappiness and upset are common themes amongst recipients of failed planning applications.  That said, I feel our considerable disappointment is not without good foundation.

“While the process itself has been beset with several problems, including supporters being locked out of the planning portal for days at a time and therefore prevented from recording their letters with ease, the most significant issue has been a discernible lack of engagement between myself and WBC.

“The letter from the Environment Agency is naturally key.  Importantly, it contains suggestions and requirements that we would have been both happy and readily able to comply with, had the letter been shared with us on a timely basis.

“Separately, the Planning Officer has boldly asserted that our proposal represents a change of use.  It is against this backdrop, despite overwhelming support both locally and nationally, that the Officer has refused permission under delegated powers.  We are entirely confident that this assessment is incorrect and can be readily proven to be so.  While avoiding fine detail for now, one does not have to work too hard to demonstrate that storing and maintaining boats on a site that has been used for this purpose for over 120 years, upholds the key theme of continuation.  This is especially the case as Hobbs retain the use of part of the site under an extended lease and all the other tenants similarly remain key elements of the boatyard moving forward.

“I am not a developer with a financial upside to this proposal.  It is instead a scheme with wholly transparent, well-intentioned objectives that has been very warmly welcomed by individuals and organisations passionate about the restoration and preservation of classic boats along with fostering the prerequisite artisan skills.   Equally, it is a scheme that I was delighted to see so warmly welcomed by the residents of Henley and a significant number of WBC residents as a dramatic improvement to the visual amenity of this important part of the riverbank, offering improved access to the river for certain user groups and the promise of sensitive rejuvenation of this important site.

“As I now understand that an appeal may take the best part of a year, resubmission is naturally the more attractive option.  That said, it would be pointless to pursue this route if I am not first assured of the support of Wokingham Council to bring the application to Committee for consideration.  This process will naturally involve considerable additional expense and the application will fail, as I have observed before, if left in the hands of the Planning Officer alone.”