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Inquiry on Claires Court School's controversial plans gets underway

An inquiry which will determine whether a private school can construct a new campus on greenbelt land commenced today (Wednesday).

In 2019, the Royal Borough refused to allow Claires Court School to move its senior boys and girls schools onto the site of its junior boys school in The Ridgeway, off Cannon Lane, next to Maidenhead Thicket

The plans were refused on the grounds that they would negatively impact the openness of the greenbelt and negatively affect the character and appearance of the area.

But following the refusal, the school appealed the decision, as well as the council’s decision to refuse a second application to build a sports pavilion that would be shared with Maidenhead Hockey Club.

A planning inquiry is expected to last eight days, and is being presided over by planning inspector Joanna Gilbert.

On the first day of the hearing, the main parties – the school, the Royal Borough, and campaign group Cox Green Says No gave their opening remarks.

Hugh Richards, representing Claires Court, argued that the school may be forced to shut down if it is not able to combine its campuses.

He said: "It is not at all clear that the council really understood the consequences of its decision.

“The evidence shows that if the appeal is dismissed, the College Avenue and Ray Mill Road East sites will in all probability close.

“The premises must be accessible to pupils, staff and visitors with mobility difficulties. The Department of Education has confirmed that to comply with the law, the school must move sites.”

“The school is the 10th largest employer in the borough. It is a substantial and important part of the local community.”

The council, though, was steadfast that allowing the new campus would harm the borough’s greenbelt.

George Mackenzie, representing the Royal Borough, said: “The appeals will be dismissed because the harm to the greenbelt is not in any view clearly outweighed by the need for the school to be altered.”

Cllr Phil Haseler (Con, Cox Green), representing Cox Green Says No, which strongly opposes the plans, was also critical of the potential impacts of the scheme.

He said: "This pocket of land has been assessed by the Royal Borough as very strong greenbelt, it makes a very strong contribution to protecting the countryside.

“It’s of great concern to the community that consolidating three schools into one large school campus will increase traffic movements during peak travel times to a level that will have an undesirable and significant impact.

“It would be like trying to squeeze a quart into a pint pot, the roads will be heavily congested and there will be a large amount of overspill. This is a very undesirable situation.”

After the opening submissions, other interested parties were allowed to speak.

Gabrielle Williamson, a mother whose child attends the school, was critical of the council’s greenbelt record.

She said: “When I’ve done my research looking at previous developments in the local schools, there’s been four in the last five years, which have all been on greenbelt land.

“I can’t get my head around how these applications have gone through.”

Addressing Cllr Haseler, she added: “You say the Cox Green community are supporting you, but what about the other part of the community?

“There are many of us that are livid with the council for approving all these other builds on greenbelt land.”

The inquiry continues.

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