Elvian Bath School on Bath Road in Reading was designated in the Council's sites and detailed policies document (the SDPF) as a site for mixed-use development including housing. The relevant policy, Policy SA9b, required that the site should be developed "for residential and education or alternative community use on the part of the site excluding the playing field" and a planning and development brief, adopted for the site in 2011, noted that the site was "suitable for residential dwellings (70 to 100 dwellings) and possibly a new school or similar community use."
Housebuilder Taylor Wimpey applied to the Council for permission to build 162 new homes across the whole site, including the playing field, and to add a further 20 homes by converting several school buildings for residential use. The Council refused permission for the development and Taylor Wimpey appealed.
Refusing the appeal in December 2013, a planning inspector concluded that the site was clearly intended for mixed-use in local planning documents and that its use for an entirely residential scheme, in an area with a plentiful housing supply and a shortage of school places, might have a detrimental impact on secondary education in the locality.
The inspector also concluded that the submitted proposals would have a detrimental effect on the character and appearance of the area and that the scheme was poorly designed.
Taylor Wimpey applied for the planning inspector's decision to be quashed, arguing that the inspector's interpretation of Policy SA9b was incorrect, that he had failed to give proper reasons for his rejection of the layout of the scheme and that his assessment of the educational needs and provision on the site and in the local area was mistaken.
Dismissing the developer's application, Mr Justice Lewis agreed with the planning inspector on all matters raised.
"In my judgment ... use of the entire site for one use ... would not accord with Policy SA9b", said the judge. "The inspector was entitled to conclude that it was undesirable, at present, to allocate the whole of the site for residential use contrary to Policy SA9b."
Regarding local educational needs, the judge praised the "rational approach" adopted by the inspector and said that there was no basis for claiming his decision had been unlawful.
Notwithstanding the interpretation of Policy SA9b and local educational needs, the inspector added that "this appeal would have been dismissed in any event solely because of the concerns over the scheme's poor quality design, lack of sustainability and the fact that it detracted from the character and appearance of the area."