Plans for a major mixed-use scheme with up to 1,000 flats in Vastern Road, Reading have been approved after the Government stepped in.

Planning inspector Susan Heywood ruled in April 2023 that Aviva Life and Pensions’ outline plans to redevelop Reading Station Shopping Park (RSSP) for a mix of flats, offices, community facilities and retail should be dismissed and planning permission refused.

But now, Minister of State for Housing, Planning and Building Safety, Lee Rowley, acting on behalf of Secretary of State for Levelling-Up, Housing and Communities, Michael Gove, has overturned her decision and ruled the scheme can go ahead.

His report, published on Thursday, March 21, states: “The Secretary of State notes the Inspector’s conclusions, but disagrees with her recommendation. He has decided to allow the appeal and grant planning permission.”

The 1.77-hectare site is currently home to The Range, Majestic Wine Warehouse, Aldi, value store OneBeyond and TGI Friday.

Aviva’s plans for the high-rise scheme were first made public in 2019 and the developer went to appeal in 2021 over Reading Borough Council’s non-determination. The council later decided its position would have been to refuse planning permission.

The proposals have been through a number of changes. The initial application, submitted in February 2020, included a hotel but amendments, submitted in October 2021, omitted the hotel from the scheme and reduced its overall maximum floorspace from 115,000 sq m to 90,850 sq m. This was further reduced to 87,002 sq m later on.

However, at the same time, the proposed number of flats, from studios to three-bedroom, was amended from 750 – 950 to ‘no more than 1,000’.

The only remaining option for Reading Borough Council to prevent the scheme going ahead is to challenge it in the High Court.

A spokesperson for the council said: “The council was hugely disappointed that the Secretary of State (SoS) overturned the Inspector’s (Susan Heywood) decision, which upheld the council’s refusal of outline planning permission.

“Members had agreed with officers that the outline application for redevelopment of the site should be refused and a public inquiry was subsequently held over several days which involved expert witnesses examining various topics.

“The inspector’s decision to refuse planning permission in April 2023 was set out in a 117-page report, and while not all of the council’s 12 reasons for refusal were upheld, many were, particularly concerns for impacts on daylight and sunlight for new residents, lack of open space, loss of trees, impact on views, loss of opportunity for a clear north south pedestrian route through the site and scale and massing of some of the blocks.

“The SoS has now concluded the re-use of the brownfield site in the town centre location outweighs the harms identified by the Inspector. The decision brings into question the value of any local authority having adopted policies and reaching planning decisions, or indeed holding detailed planning inquiries when decisions are appealed, if the outcomes can be so readily overturned.

“The council now has six weeks to consider whether to challenge how the SoS has reached the decision, and the consequences of any challenge. Notwithstanding that decision, we would emphasise the developer still requires approval for detailed plans before anything can be built, as the outline application only asked for means of access to be approved at this stage.

“It should be noted any proposed development would additionally need to take into account changes to tall building design in the Building Safety Act.”

The full report can be seen here.

For a detailed breakdown with analysis and commentary visit the Reading-on-Thames blog here.

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