Velolife - not in my back yard

The revamped Velolife cafe. Photo Velolife
Velolife
Velolife

Velolife - not in my back yard

A failing pub in a tiny village converted to a thriving café. What’s not to like? The answer is there’s too many cyclists. Cycling UK’s Head of Campaigns, Duncan Dollimore, looks at how planning enforcement powers are being used to restrict where cyclists meet, and where cycling clubs go.

Until recently, the tiny Berkshire village of Warren Row was famous for one thing: a potential location for the British Government. Between 1958 and 1961 a secret bunker was built in the chalk mines. The village had been identified as a Regional Seat of Government in the event of a nuclear attack on London, but the bunker was discovered in 1963 by some anti-nuclear protesters, the Spies for Peace. That's quite a claim to fame!

But for the last two weeks Warren Row, and specifically an old pub converted into the Velolife Café, has been very much in the news and at the centre of a planning dispute concerning what does or does not amount to a  “cyclists’ meet” or “‘organised ride”.

The Snooty Fox pub had been closed for eighteen months prior to the premises re-opening as the Velolife café in 2016. But in 2017, the new proprietor Lee Goodwin was served with an enforcement notice alleging a breach of planning control by the Royal Borough of Windsor and Maidenhead Council (RBWM). 

Cycling news site, Road.cc has outlined the chronology in detail, but in summary the notice required Lee to stop using the premises as a café, meeting place, cycle repair facility or for retail use. So, Lee appealed the decision and Velolife was allowed to continue as a café with a bike workshop but not for retail.

In her appeal decision the Planning Inspector also changed the wording in the enforcement notice from “meeting place” to “cyclists’ meet”, upholding that restriction. The Inspector therefore ruled that Lee can’t allow Velolife to be used as a “cyclists’ meet”, but what does that mean?

A neighbour had apparently complained about being disturbed by groups of cyclists congregating close to their property in the early mornings and evenings. Lee thought the Inspector wanted to ensure that the premises weren’t used as a meeting place from which organised rides would commence, however RBWM interpreted “cyclists’ meet" to mean any gathering of cyclists before, during or after a ride of any sort.

A meet or not a meet, that is the question.

A meet or not a meet, that is the question. RBWM’s answer to which two weeks ago was to serve Lee with an enforcement notice which stated that:

“It is the Council’s opinion that [cyclists’ meet] involves, and will include the gathering of cyclists for organised rides, whether they start, finish, or are constructed to use the land and building during such events. If, at any stage during a cyclist’s meet, the activity is engaged on the land or in the building will constitute a breach of the requirements to cease the use.”

As Lee is seeking legal advice, with a court hearing listed in November, I am going to park his case there, and move on to the local cycling clubs. In the last few days, Cycling UK has been in contact with six local clubs which received letters from RBWM, referring to the court proceedings against Velolife and warning that:

“In order for the Council not to have to consider taking any action against your club, or persons that rides with your club, I would invite you to ensure that all your members do not organise any rides or events that will incorporate Velolife at Warren Row, Warren Row Road, Reading. If any evidence is gathered following this letter that identifies (club name) in the activity or a ‘cyclist meet’, you may be added to the Court application as a named defendant, although I hope this will not be necessary.”

Following a social media backlash, and as reported by Road.cc,  RBWM did seek to qualify those remarks, and the Council Leader Simon Dudley has gone to great efforts to try and press the reset button.

And that’s why on Thursday 15 August, Cycling UK and British Cycling are meeting with Mr Dudley and other RBWM officers to try and resolve this dispute before positions become further entrenched.

Cycling UK will report further following the meeting on Thursday, follow us on Twitter or Facebook for up to the minute updates

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Comments

It’s good that you are going to meet with RBWM. But the chronology is glided over rather than detailed in the article, even with the reference to road.cc whose article does not cover the vital years.

What happened between 2014/15 when The Snooty Fox closed and 2017 when the first enforcement notice was served?

That is, what planning permission did the new owner seek? What precise change-of-use was specified and applied for? What conditions were attached to the permission when it was granted?

Without knowing the answers to those questions, we can’t be in a position to offer an opinion on the rights and wrongs.

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