Councillors have approved a new 1,500-capacity secondary school for Reading – but with concerns it is being rushed and fails to meet sustainability objectives.

Reading Borough Council’s planning applications committee voted in favour of the application for the new River Academy but noted the scheme, which is on a flood plain, has only 120 cycling spaces, lacks a green roof, solar panels, bus stop and access to the river and will have a gas boiler.

The development, submitted by developer Bowmer & Kirkland on behalf of the Department for Education, is for a 5.5-hectare council-owned site in Richfield Avenue between the Reading Festival site and Rivermead Leisure Centre. It is intended to start operating as early as September 2023 to relieve pressure on existing schools.

Speaking at the June 1 meeting, Cllr Josh Williams said: “It’s incredibly disappointing to see no green roof, no particular nod to the fact that we exist in a climate emergency, no particular nod to educating our children that that’s the case.

“It doesn’t even feel like a building that has been designed to sit next to a major river in our country, never mind Reading.

“It doesn’t feel that the design has been aesthetically chosen to respond to its setting, particularly. And the (meeting) report notes that the design is a key aspect of the development. But I look at the design and I see a fairly boxey, unattractive design in front of us, which the report repeatedly labels ‘functional’.”

He said there was a balance to be struck between the need for the school and the time available for it, but he echoed comments of the Caversham & District Residents’ Association. He said: “I worry that we are going to look back at this building in 10 or 20 years and say ‘what was that?’.

Councillors heard the bus stop could be addressed later and that some of the design features they wanted to see could be incorporated at a later stage. But Cllr Karen Rowland was unimpressed by the prospect.

She said: “This is really a missed opportunity. We are going to be 10 or 15 years down the road, going ‘what did we do?’ because we are very much in the middle of a climate emergency and I just do not see the mitigating factors or the thought that was put forward.

“It rankles my good nerve that we’ve got something called the River Academy and there’s no access for those children to the river.

“I understand there are safety issues but it’s just a cold lack of response to what is a local green space that we are giving up for that.

“The hope and dream of any kind of improved future heating, air source heat pumps or PV panels on the roof, to me seem just a pipe dream that will never be realised because we are working within a budget.”

She referred to the application’s energy statement and the fact it referred to budgetary constraints which led to the ‘fabric first’ design.

Cllr Rowland went on: “They are going to hermetically seal the building up so they will have even less connection with nature because the building will be so airtight .“

And she said favoured she more creativity on the southern tip of the site, such as a possible orchard or more cycle spaces.

She added: “I’m left with a lot of issues we have raised here and the knowledge that we are going to have a school. And I know that this town will make that school work – I have no doubt.

“But I feel it’s a missed opportunity and I also feel like we are just being rushed towards another school without being able to sit down and shape it into a true vision for what we really want for the future.”

© Thames Tap (powered by

Sign up to receive your free weekly Thames Tap journal here.