'All or nothing' Claires Court School planning inquiry comes to a close

George Roberts

Claires Court applications recommended for refusal

An ‘all or nothing’ planning inquiry into whether Claires Court School can construct a new campus on greenbelt land came to a close last week.

On Friday, the main parties taking part in the six-day appeal hearing gave their closing statements to the planning inspector, Joanna Gilbert.

Claires Court School has been arguing for the inspector to overturn the council's decision to refuse an application to build a new campus on the site of its junior boys school in The Ridgeway, off Cannon Lane, providing a new site for its senior boys and girls schools.

It is also appealing a second application to build a sports pavilion on the site, which would be shared with Maidenhead Hockey Club.

The Royal Borough and campaign group Cox Green Says No have been adamant that the plans should not go ahead because of the impact they would have on the greenbelt and the openness of the area.

George Mackenzie, representing the Royal Borough, said: “The appeal schemes would significantly reduce the appeal site’s openness, it is a classic and erroneous death by 1,000 cuts argument to say the schemes would not harm the openness of the wider green belt.

“Planning permission for an appropriate development in the greenbelt can only be granted if the benefits of the development are outweighed by a clear order of magnitude.”

Mr Mackenzie was also critical of the school’s argument that it would be forced to close its sites on Ray Mill Road East and College Avenue if the appeal is unsuccessful.

He said: “Before the inquiry opened it had never been suggested that the school would close in the event that planning permission was not granted.

“The highest that the point was put was that the school may close.

“It is telling that there is no evidence before the inquiry of internal school documents or communications sent to parents or staff or indeed the bank indicating that the wholesale closure of the school was on the horizon.”

Cllr Phil Haseler, who represented Cox Green Says No throughout the inquiry, was also critical of the potential harm to the greenbelt.

He said: ”The buildings, vehicle parking areas, access road and roundabout would cause significant urbanisation, eroding the rural character and contributing further to urbanisation.”

Meanwhile, Hugh Richards, representing Claires Court, described the appeal as an ‘all or nothing’ case and argued how the construction of the new site would benefit other areas of Maidenhead.

Referring to the Ray Mill Road East and College Avenue sites, he said: “As brownfield sites in the urban area, they will probably be redeveloped for some other appropriate use that will help meet the need for further development in the borough.

“In this case, unlike in many others, development in the greenbelt will encourage the reuse of brownfield urban land.”

Mr Richards went on to point out that highways assessments showed that congestion around the site would not be badly affected, before addressing the issue of the school’s potential closure.

He said: “The evidence shows that if appeal A (the new school campus) is dismissed, the College Avenue and Ray Mill Road East sites will in all probability close.

“This is for a number of reasons. The current arrangement is unlawful. Coeducational schools must offer the same opportunities and facilities to boys and girls. The requirement applies to both educational and social opportunities.”

The planning inspector, Ms Gilbert, will now begin the process of making a decision. A final verdict is not expected for a number of weeks.

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