The government planning inspector who examined Reading Borough Council’s (RBC) new local plan has advised that clarification is needed on the policy on student accommodation developments. The local plan will guide Reading’s planning policy until 2036, and this is the first time that Reading will have had a planning policy on development for student housing.
At their meeting on Monday 10 June, the RBC policy committee discussed the 67 main modifications the inspector had said were needed to ensure the plan is sound and legally compliant. Three of these modifications concern student accommodation.
After two years of public consultation, RBC submitted their draft local plan to the secretary of state for housing, communities and local government in March 2018. The plan was examined in public by a government-appointed inspector between 25 September and 5 October 2018.
The proposed policy on student accommodation (H12) states:
New student accommodation will be provided on or adjacent to existing further or higher education campuses, or as an extension or reconfiguration of existing student accommodation.
There will be a presumption against proposals for new student accommodation on other sites unless it can be clearly demonstrated how the proposal meets a need that cannot be met on the above sites.
Councillor Tony Jones said that the University of Reading projected a 30% growth in student numbers over the next 10 years. Despite plans to meet part of the demand for accommodation on Whiteknights campus, he expected the housing in nearby Redlands and elsewhere would be used as well. “What reassurance can you, Councillor Page, give us in terms of this plan addressing those tensions?” he asked.
Councillor Tony Page responded:
This is a very important discussion that we had during the public enquiry and outside of the public enquiry and the amendments that are reflected on page 79 and 80 [of the committee reports pack] are worth emphasising.
Members of planning committee will recollect that on a number of occasions we have been presented with developments for new student, allegedly new student accommodation, which incorporates a level of provision that many students would regard as almost a new paradise … [facilities]… which are in no way comparable to what is delivered in terraced houses… In a terraced house where you may be sharing a kitchen and other facilities the rent level is much lower.
Councillor Page went on to refer to one of the policy’s modified explanatory paragraphs, which stated:
The provision of new student accommodation needs to be balanced against other types of housing. It is likely that purpose-built student housing, where it is affordable to those students currently in HMOs, can free up some existing homes to meet more general needs, and there is evidence that in those recent years where numbers of students in HMOs have dropped, this has coincided with the opening of large new on-campus student accommodation blocks.
However, the Council considers that there are many sites where development for students prevents a potential housing site being used to help to meet the more pressing needs for general housing, including affordable housing. Development for students should therefore be prioritised towards established student locations, unless a specific need for a development in a certain location can be clearly demonstrated.
He then continued:
We have regularly challenged developers to say “are you going to be offering rent levels [to] attract students out of the terraced houses?” … and they can’t… They are appealing to and targeting… the wealthy foreign students that the University are targeting.
Two further modifications to the draft local plan explain why two sites earmarked for development that do not meet the criteria in the policy are available for student housing.
The first is the Woodley Arms site (ER1a) on Waldeck Street. The draft local plan had stated that it was available for residential or student accommodation, and a statement will be inserted into the draft local plan saying that planning permission has now been granted for student accommodation. At the time the local plan was drafted, proposals had been submitted for student flats but these were not approved until October 2018 when an appeal to the government planning inspector by developer Lainston Woodley Arms LLP was decided in their favour. Work has not yet started on the site, which continues to deteriorate.
The second apparent anomaly is that the Reading prison site (CR13a) is considered suitable for student accommodation because it includes:
… a listed prison building of considerable historic sensitivity which may be challenging to convert, and the importance of securing a beneficial future use for the building means that the policy must keep the options for possible future uses open.
Other changes to the draft local plan emphasise an ongoing need to co-ordinate the University’s growth plans with an appropriate increase in student accommodation.
Recent student accommodation developments and proposals in Katesgrove
In addition to the Woodley Arms, other student developments have been approved or recent applications submitted in Katesgrove.
RBC had already approved plans for student studios at 79 Silver Street by the time the draft new local plan was issued for public consultation in November 2017, and a planning application has recently been submitted for 79 student rooms on the opposite side of the road at 40-68 Silver Street.
RBC granted planning permission for student accommodation at the northern end of East Street to provide 135 student rooms in March 2019. This was a modification of an existing application for 103 rooms which was approved on appeal.
Article 4 protection against HMOs (Houses in Multiple Occupation)
Most of Katesgrove, as well as Redlands and the parts of Park ward close to the university’s Whiteknights and London Road campuses, are protected against a proliferation of HMOs and consequent loss of residential housing stock by an article 4 direction. This overrules the usual rights to convert a property to a small HMO for use by three to six people without planning permission. A large HMO for more than six people requires planning permission everywhere in Reading.
What happens next with the New Local Plan
‘Main’ modifications must be put through another round of public consultation before they are incorporated into the plan. This is expected to take place between 12 June and 24 July. Minor modifications will also be made but do not need to be consulted on.
- Reading Borough Council policy committee 10 June 2019 papers & webcast
- Main modifications to the New Local Plan Report & modifications & sustainability appraisal
- University of Reading
- HMOs in the University Area map & direction
- Woodley Arms at The Whitley Pump
- St Patrick’s Hall at The Whitley Pump
- 79 Silver Street student studios approved
- New Local Plan at The Whitley Pump