The plans by Tiviat Way Investments had been refused by Stockton-on-Tees Borough Council in February. They said that the proposed development, on an 18 hectare site within land designated as green wedge, would result in an "irretrievable change of character from open agricultural land to a built-up area".
Pickles said in his decision letter (41-page / 316KB PDF) that he agreed with the conclusions by a Planning Inspector that the scheme would cause harm in relation to the land's green wedge designation, to the character and appearance of the area and to the utility of a footpath within the site, but that any such harm would be limited.
The SoS noted that the Council's supply of housing land was "far short" of the five year supply required by the National Planning Policy Framework. He said that, although the Council was taking steps to address the existing shortfall, the provision of over 300 homes, including 53 affordable, would "represent a significant benefit".
Pickles said that, although the school would widen choice in education, provide community facilities, and generate employment and economic activity, thereby adding to the benefits of the housing, there was no need to include a condition in the planning permission to link the housing element and the school element of the proposal together.
He said he agreed with the Inspector's conclusions that because of the "prevailing situation" in terms of housing supply in the borough, the benefits of the 350 homes were sufficient to justify the housing element, "whether or not the free school and sixth form ever materialises".