A Planning Inspector has dismissed an appeal for the construction of an 836 room student accommodation block in Reading despite its urgent need.

The development at the University of Reading was put forward as part of a larger £100 million scheme to build a total of 1,500 new student rooms to cope with rising demand.

The university had cited an urgent need for the new accommodation, explaining that it has a growing waiting list for first-year accommodation, rising from 300 to more than 750 from 2014 to 2018.

However, this is leaving some students with no option but live in temporary accommodation for the first few months of their courses, such as hotels.

An earlier application to develop the site had proposed demolishing Pearson’s Court, a ‘red-brick’ building dating back to 1913. However, opposition to the demolition of the building led to it being locally listed. The university were therefore forced to withdraw the application.

The present scheme does not involve the demolition of Pearson’s Court. It also 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.

The assigned Planning Inspector, Mr John Wilde, agreed that the latest scheme would preserve the setting of the now-protected heritage asset of Pearson’s Court. 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 overturned two of the council’s three reasons for refusal, finding no harm from the loss of trees, or from the proposed density of the development.

Additionally, Mr Wilde found that the scheme would “incorporate positive design elements” such as a central boulevard and a “graduated approach”. However, he eventually ruled that the development would “harm the sense of openness” at the site. It was on this basis that he dismissed the appeal.

23 May 2019