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Appeal: Council must pay costs after refusing retirement apartments

Retirement housing illustration

An inspector has granted permission for 31 two-bedroom retirement apartments in Ruscombe, near Reading, Berkshire, after deciding the council had failed to distinguish between ‘difference and harm’ and must pay costs for ‘unreasonable behaviour’.

The appeal relates to a triangular area of land in Ruscombe, a small village in Berkshire. The site was allocated for “around 15 dwellings” in the Wokingham Borough Council local plan (LP), and there is extant permission for 16 homes.

The three roads that border the site all follow a linear, domestic development pattern. From the site’s most visible frontage, existing houses are “spacious and well landscaped”, and set back in generous gardens.

The proposal sought permission for 31 apartments within a single large building. The council argued that this would not be in keeping with the character of the area.

Inspector Simon Warder acknowledged that a “single plan form building” would be different from nearby buildings, but noted that the visible side of the building would be divided into four elements with “deep set backs” between them. He found that although it would be obvious the four elements form a single building from directly opposite, the design would “adequately break up the mass of the building”.

Warder found that “in terms of spaciousness, linearity and landscaping, the general arrangement would not be dissimilar”. He noted that although the building’s density would be higher than the surrounding houses, the borough design guide (BDG) states that density alone cannot determine appropriateness.

The inspector also dealt with various other issues raised at the hearing. Responding to concerns about the capacity of the local GP surgery, he noted that “pressure on GP services is widespread”, and the surgery itself had not objected. He accepted that the age limit of 55 could allow people of working age to live in the apartments, which would raise questions over transport and parking. However, he pointed to the appellant’s demographic statistics, which show that 80 per cent of occupants are 78 or older, and 90 per cent or widowed or single. Finding no reason to withhold permission, Warder allowed the appeal.

In a separate costs decision, the inspector ruled that the council had cited various ways the scheme would be “different” from its surroundings, but had failed to properly substantiate how this would be harmful. He concluded that the council's “unreasonable behaviour” had resulted in unnecessary expense for the appellant, and ordered it to pay costs in full.

The inspector’s report – case reference 3170553 – can be read here.

The separate costs decision can be found here.

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