A planning inquiry into a ‘harmful’ 836-home application in east Reading ended on Friday, with the council softening its stance on the University of Reading (UoR) proposal but remaining in opposition.

The appeal was heard this month after Reading Borough Council (RBC) rejected the application to develop an additional 654 rooms at St Patrick’s Hall, Northcourt Avenue, in February 2018.

The planning inspectorate has estimated a decision on the appeal ‘within the next month or two’ but could not guarantee a date.

Matthew Dale-Harris, RBC’s legal representative, said the local planning authority accepted the benefits of the scheme, in providing students with accommodation, were ‘significant’ but could be delivered at a lower density, mass and scale.

The authority had previously called any public benefits of the development ‘generic’.

He concluded, however, that the ‘adverse impacts of the development outweigh the benefits’.

The inquiry into the refusal started on Monday, March 18, in the Waterhouse Chamber at Reading Town Hall and sat for eight days until March 29.

Representatives from the council, the UoR and Northcourt Avenue Residents’ Association (NARA) were cross-examined on a range of issues over the eight days.

RBC and NARA both said they support re-development of the site but not at the numbers requested by the university, with NARA calling for a limit of 500 rooms.

NARA believe the development would be too tall and densely packed, place pressure on local services and impact on locally listed heritage site Pearson’s Court.

Dr Ian Kemp, summarising NARA’s position, said: “The proposal is inappropriate and will cause harm to Reading.

“NARA accepts that it is the only site immediately available. The difference of opinion is around numbers.”

Craig Howell-Williams QC, delivering the university’s nearly two-hour closing statement, criticised the council’s ‘shifting’ view on the benefits of the scheme.

He said: “The shifts in the ground of RBC’s case is reflective of the poverty of it. The council now recognises that the benefits of the scheme are significant.

“Mention of the area being lowkey has disappeared. Reference to quiet, leafy surroundings have been dropped.”

The university has stressed the urgent need for accommodation, with some students having to start their first year in hotels this year.

Resident Jessica Di Luccio said the university’s closing statement had only considered the impact of the development on the university and students and not permanent residents in the area.

NARA is currently applying for the Northcourt Avenue to be designated as a Local Area of Special Character.

Simone Illger, chairman of NARA, added: “There is no doubt that if the appeal is allowed, the character of this predominantly residential area will be detrimentally altered.

“Whatever the outcome of the appeal, I am confident that NARA made a difference to the Inquiry.

“I’m extremely proud of the huge effort that has been made by those appearing at the appeal.

“If there is one positive from all of this, it is that it has bought our community closer together. “