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Appeal: 836 new student beds turned down at the University of Reading

Reading University / Chris Wood

An inspector has refused plans for new student accommodation at the University of Reading, despite the scheme’s ‘significant gestation period’ and resulting support from council officers.

AUTHORITYReading Borough Council

The appeal concerned part of a residential campus belonging to the University of Reading in Berkshire. 

The university sought permission to demolish several of the existing buildings on the site and replace them with a number of blocks to provide accommodation for 836 students, as part of its £100 million scheme to build a total of 1,500 new student bedrooms.

The university had cited an urgent need for new accommodation, explaining that its waiting list for first-year accommodation had grown from 300 to more than 750 between 2014 and 2018, leaving some students with no choice but to live in hotels for the first months of their courses.

An earlier application to develop the site had proposed the demolition of Pearson’s Court, a ‘red-brick’ building dating to 1913. But opposition to the demolition of the building led to it being locally listed, and the university was forced to withdraw its application.

The present scheme, which did not include the demolition of Pearson’s Court, won the support of the council’s officers after a “significant gestation period”. But it was still unanimously rejected by the council’s planning committee, leading to a one-day inquiry.

Inspector John Wilde agreed that the latest scheme would preserve the setting of the now-protected heritage asset. He also agreed that the need for new accommodation was “relatively urgent”, and that the appeal site was “the only immediately deliverable site” available.

He acknowledged that the university would “suffer financially” if he rejected the appeal, and also noted that “good-quality accommodation can help student mental health”.

He also rejected two of the council’s three reasons for refusal, finding no harm arising from the loss of mature trees, or from the proposed density of the development.

Although he found that the scheme would “incorporate positive design elements” such as a central boulevard and a “graduated approach”, Wilde nevertheless ruled that the development would “harm the sense of openness” at the site. On this basis he refused permission.

The inspector’s report – case reference 3209702 – can be read here.

Image credit | Chris Wood