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Appeal for Major New School and Sports Facilities in Green Belt Dismissed

George Mackenzie

A planning inspector has dismissed a s.78 appeal for the provision of a new school for 1,000+ pupils together with a number of new grass and artificial sports pitches as well a new sports pavilion for the school and a new club house for Maidenhead Hockey Club in the Green Belt. The application had initially been refused by the Royal Borough of Windsor and Maidenhead (RBWM). 
 
The proposal for the new school and sports facilities was promoted by Clares Court Schools which currently operates a co-educational all-through school (i.e. nursery through to 6th Form) across three sites in Maidenhead. The school is the only one in RBWM that operates a “Diamond Model” in which boys and girls have separate academic classes but mix outside of the classroom. It is also one of the largest employers in the district. 
 
Two out of the three sites that the school currently operates on were acknowledged to suffer from serious structural, spatial and acoustic issues and would be unfit for purpose in the near future if they were not already so. It was also acknowledged that the operational difficulties arising from the need for the school to be operated across three separate sites were undesirable and inefficient
 
The Inspector also found that the arrangements resulted in a situation that was likely to be unlawful in the context of the Equality Act 2010 because girls and boys were educated in different - but unequal - facilities. The Inspector therefore accepted that the need for the school to be altered should attract “great weight” in accordance with para. 94(a) of the NPPF. This was particularly so since the appellant argued that it would be necessary for the school to close in the absence of planning permission for the new school being granted. 
 
Notwithstanding this, the Inspector decided that Very Special Circumstances did not exist to outweigh the harm that the scheme would cause to the Green Belt as well as the harm to the landscape character and visual amenity of the area. The Inspector found that the scheme would result in a very significant loss of openness and would harm 3 out of the 5 Green Belt purposes relevant to the sites. The appeal was therefore dismissed. 
 
George Mackenzie acted for RBWM. A copy of the decision can be found here.