Reading Borough Council refused the St Patrick’s Hall redevelopment application in February 2018 because the plan contravened council policies and, in their view, the design of the new accommodation was both overbearing and inappropriate.
UoR and UPP appealed this decision in September 2018. This appeal was investigated by the Planning Inspectorate (England and Wales’ final arbiter in planning disputes) in a public inquiry in March 2019.
In dismissing the University’s appeal, planning inspector John Wilde cited concern over the permanent loss of part of the locally listed Pearson’s Court and the way the new blocks would obstruct local views.
Mr Wilde added that the proposed redevelopment would make a significant change to the local townscape:
It seems to me… that the scale of the existing townscape would not necessarily be respected.
These taller buildings can be construed as being uncharacteristic elements within the townscape, particularly as they would feature a flat roofed design rather than pitched.
He also dismissed the University’s claim that the new accommodation blocks’ design was in keeping with the character of Northcourt Avenue, and added that the new blocks would be oppressively close to 18 Northcourt Avenue and Creighton Court (both owned by the University), and at odds with the design of the latter.
Mr Wilde said that the proposed redevelopment offered many benefits, such as improved facilities and more on-site accommodation for students, which could improve student welfare and could also release pressure on the HMO (houses in multiple occupation) rental market in the town. The redevelopment would also offer economic advantages to both the University and the town, as well as 26 new full-time jobs.
Mr Wilde concluded:
… the harm that has been identified and the consequent policy conflict outweigh the benefits of the proposed scheme, substantial as they are.
Northcourt Avenue Residents Association (NARA) gave evidence at the inquiry. NARA chair Simone Illger said:
A small team of local residents dedicated a great deal of time and effort preparing for the inquiry. Despite being up against top legal planning experts, the team were able to produce compelling evidence. It’s satisfying to see that the inspector acknowledged many of the objections raised by the NARA team in his decision notice.
The original planning application, followed by the appeal process, has created a great deal of additional work for the residents’ association over the past two and a half years. Our regular activities and work to support the local community and protect our neighbourhood have had to take a back seat.
NARA hopes that the University and UPP will engage fully with local residents in any future plans for the site.