A GROUP of Winnersh residents are furious about the new sports dome at The Forest School — with one woman saying she would never have lived there if she knew it was coming.
Laura Beasley has expressed anger over the new development and believes it breaches the terms of the original planning proposal.
But this has been refuted by planning enforcement officers at the borough council.
The Dome Project is a joint initiative between the school and Reading Football Club, and it has seen a 10-metre-high air dome installed on the school grounds.
The project will also deliver a new access road, car park and 3G pitch, and the planning application was given the go-ahead in 2017.
Work began on the site earlier this year, and now residents have complained that the original proposal, which said the site would “not be harmful to the street scene or character of the area”, was “misleading”.
“With lockdown, I’ve been spending more and more time at home, and the dome is always there — I can’t escape it,” Ms Beasley explained.
“The original planning application said the dome would blend in with the surroundings, but I think it’s quite obvious that it doesn’t blend in at all.”
The resident, who lives in view of the dome, says that since it has been inflated, less light has entered her house because the structure “dominates” the skyline.
She said if the dome had existed when she viewed her property in Winnersh, she would have chosen to live elsewhere.
Now, Ms Beasley is concerned that the site breaches the terms of the original planning application, which said the dome would be a maximum of 10.45 metres tall.
“They raised the ground level before inflating the dome by maybe two or three metres,” she said, “so nobody ever expected it to tower over us like this.”
Bernadette Mitra, Conservative prospective candidate for Winnersh in May’s local elections, also has concerns about the development.
“This big structure has suddenly appeared out of nowhere and it’s a lot bigger in scale than what was anticipated,” she said.
“I think for the majority of people, it’s a shock to the system to suddenly have this view from your back garden.”
Ms Mitra says her biggest worry is the dome’s impact on the surrounding environment.
“This structure isn’t permanent,” she said. “The materials will need replacing.
“And to keep it inflated day in day out means a lot of electricity will need to be generated.
“I think the school had a golden opportunity to set an example to children about how sport can be played in an environmentally friendly and sustainable way, and they missed it.”
However, Cllr Paul Fishwick, Lib Dem ward councillor for Winnersh, says it’s unlikely any changes will be made to the dome at this stage.
“The planning application for the site was received over three years ago, and a consultation took place with residents at the time,” he explained.
“Only three objections were received by planning officers, and only two of them said the dome would be unsightly.
“Residents have contacted me about the dome since, and I requested planning officers to check the points they were raising — none of those are a breach of planning.”
According to Cllr Fishwick, officers have also investigated the raised floor level and confirmed it is in accordance with the planning permission.
He says the new facility will be a welcome addition to Winnersh.
“It will be a benefit to the area — it’s a good use of the site,” he said. “It’s a facility which will be well-used by local people and the local school.”
And Cllr Wayne Smith, executive member for planning and enforcement at Wokingham Borough Council, echoed Cllr Fishwick’s comments.
“Our planning enforcement officers have been out to measure the height of the sports dome and The Forest School have determined that it is in line with the approved plans,” he said.
“I understand that some nearby residents may not like the sports dome, but the impact on the environment was considered as part of the planning application, which was approved.”
Cllr Smith says that the only action the council can now take is to ensure that the site continues to comply with what was approved.
“We as a team take planning enforcement complaints seriously and so we sent out an enforcement officer to assess the complaints — in this case, our team did not find anything that breached planning approval,” he added.
Shirley Austin, headteacher of The Forest School, says that despite resident concerns, the completion of the dome is a “real positive” for the school and the community.
“It will safeguard our pupils as the entrance at the back of the school has been redone, meaning residents can see the pupils coming on and off site, so it’s a lot safer now,” she explained.
“And the students are so excited about the whole thing. For some of my sixth formers, these plans have been years in the making.”
When the project is complete, it will be used by The Forest School pupils, Reading FC and be available for community hire.