Council Appeals Secretary of State Planning Decision on Vastern Court

  • Council submits a challenge to the Secretary of State decision on Vastern Court planning proposals
  • The Council’s grounds for challenge will now be considered by the High Court

Reading Borough Council has submitted a legal challenge following the recent Secretary of State decision to allow a developer planning appeal on the proposals for Vastern Court.

The Council believe that there are strong grounds to challenge the Secretary of State’s decision and, following legal advice, last week made an application to the High Court for leave to bring a statutory review under section 288 of the Town and Country Planning Act 1990.

The Council’s grounds for challenge will now be considered in detail by the High Court. If found worthy of further consideration, a date will be set for the case to be deliberated by a High Court judge who could either reject the Council challenge or quash the Secretary of State’s decision and advise him to revisit it, addressing any issues identified during the process.

The challenge follows a decision made by the Secretary of State for Levelling up, Housing and Communities last month, where he overturned the Planning Inspector’s (Susan Heywood) decision, which upheld the Council’s original refusal of outline planning permission.

The Council’s Planning Application Committee, on 15 Feb 2022, had agreed with officers that the outline application for redevelopment of the Vastern Road site should be refused. A Public Inquiry was subsequently held over several days which involved expert witnesses.

The Planning Inspector’s recommendation to dismiss the appeal and refuse planning permission in April 2023, following the Public Inquiry, was set out in a 117-page report. 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 and existing 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 Secretary of State’s decision to allow the appeal and go against the Inspector’s recommendation was presented in a 10-page letter.


Micky Leng, Reading Borough Council’s Lead Councillor for Planning, said:

“The Council expressed its extreme disappointment at the Secretary of State’s decision on the Vastern Court proposals last month, which reversed previous decisions made by officers, Councillors and, subsequently, the Planning Inspector following a very detailed process at the Public Inquiry.

“The Council firmly stands by its initial reasons for refusal and, after taking legal advice, we believe we have a strong case to challenge the decision at the High Court.

“The Secretary of State concluded the re-use of the brownfield site in the town centre location outweighs the harms identified by the Inspector, and by local representatives before that. As previously stated, 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 outcomes can be so readily overturned.

“The Council now awaits the High Court ruling on whether the challenge can be progressed and if it ultimately leads to dismissal of the appeal,  as originally recommended by the Inspector, or whether the appeal could still be allowed, albeit on a much clearer basis than we have been offered to date.”

“We will not allow the Secretary of State to ride roughshod over and undermine the local democratic planning process.”