A planning appeal against the refusal of permission for a 10-storey secondary school by Bromley Borough Council has been dismissed on design grounds.

Despite the demand for new school places in the area, the Inspector stated the design would cause harm to its surroundings.

The appeal related to a redundant 4-storey office block at the southern end of Bromley High Street in south London. The appellant sought permission to replace the building with a new school, described as “the tallest school in Britain and probably one of the tallest in the world”.

Named the Science, Health and Wellbeing Academy, the school would comprise a 4-storey ‘plinth’ block with a chevron-shaped 6-storey block on top, rising to 10-storeys in total. It would provide 1,260 school places for students aged 11 to 19.

The application, submitted by London South East Academies Trust with the backing of the Department for Education, was blocked by the local council, leading to a four-day inquiry.

Local parents had concerns that the school would have no outdoor play areas and would have non-openable windows to keep out pollution. At the inquiry, the Inspector considered the main issues to be the building’s size, its impact on the character of the area and potential harm to the outlook of nearby residents.

The Inspector agreed that the design had “responded reasonably well” to the constraints of the site, given the “few directly comparable precedents”. It would provide a “strong focal point” to mark the end of the high street in line with local policy aspirations. The “fully glazed bookend” feature of the upper block’s north end would “provide a strong expression of activity within”.

However, there was “inherent tension” between policy support for a taller building and the desire to maintain open views of Keston Ridge, which provides a “rural landscape context” for Bromley town centre. Contrary to the appellant’s assessment that there would be a “negligible impact”, the Inspector found that the landscape would be obscured to a “significant extent”.

They also agreed with the council’s concerns around overlooking, noting that the building would “rise well above” domestic properties opposite the site, creating a harmful and overbearing effect.

“The requirement to meet a demanding educational brief together with the site’s constraints, have led to undue priority being given to internal needs at the expense of the building’s effect on its surroundings”.

In the planning balance, the Inspector acknowledged the benefit of the 1,260 school places the scheme would provide, in light of a “pressing” local need and the presumption in favour of state-funded school proposals outlined in a 2011 ministerial statement.

However, the “lasting, if not permanent” harm that would arise from the scheme’s “unsatisfactory built form” outweighed the immediate need for additional school places

The appeal was therefore dismissed.

20 February 2019