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Hopkins’ Eton College sports complex approved despite green belt concerns

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Councillors have approved Hopkins Architects’ plans for a sports complex at Eton College in spite of planning officers declaring it harmful to the green belt

The Royal Borough of Windsor and Maidenhead’s Windsor Urban Development Management Panel voted unanimously to grant consent to the practice’s proposals for the famous boarding school.

Hopkins’ scheme will see demolition of existing facilities including a gym as well as indoor and outdoor pools. These will be replaced with two new buildings hosting a range of facilities for sports including water polo, rifle shooting, climbing and Eton fives.

Planning officers said in a report to councillors that the scheme should be refused as it amounted to ‘inappropriate development within the green belt’.

But the development management panel acted against that advice and construction could start next summer.

The Eton Sports and Aquatics Centre (ESAC) will be built close to where Common Lane meets Slough Road. This will include a 25m pool with movable floor; a four-court multi sports hall; changing facilities; a spectator and post-match social area; parking; and an access track.

On a neighbouring site, towards Common Lane, a School Sports Centre (SSC) will be constructed, featuring a nine-court multi sports hall; eight squash courts; a triple-height climbing wall; a rifle range; an ‘athlete development programme’ facility including a sprint track; and a ‘dojo’ area generally used for meditation in martial arts. The centre will also host classrooms, offices and general fitness and changing spaces.

Meanwhile a racket courts building will be refurbished and extended to provide a new clubroom, viewing gallery and larger changing area. The Jacks building will be overhauled to create a fives clubroom and changing facilities. Fives courts will be refurbished and a new pavilion created next to Caxton Schools.

The planning officers’ report said the ESAC was ‘entirely within the green belt’ and the SSC ‘would project into the green belt where it is proposed to extend onto The Field’.

The report added that the proposals represented inappropriate development that was harmful to the green belt and could only be approved under national planning policy if it was justified by ‘very special circumstances’.

Despite the existing facilities remaining largely untouched for three decades, and becoming ’dated, tired and inadequate’, the justification for the harm to the green belt did not exist, according to officers.

However, Eton College headmaster Simon Henderson said sport had been central to an Eton education for centuries and continued to play a significant role in the cultural heritage and identity of the college.

Founded in 1440 by King Henry VI, Eton College has a long list of famous alumni including princes William and Harry, former prime minister David Cameron and novelist George Orwell.

‘Our proposed new facilities will help Eton extend its aim of being at the forefront of education through sport while also providing state-of-the-art new swimming and sports facilities for the benefit of the wider community,’ said Henderson.

‘Eton has a proud history of extending our educational reach beyond our own pupils. Our ambition – to enable the maximum possible use of our new swimming and sports hall facilities by local state primary schools – seeks to take this commitment further.’

The ESAC building is scheduled to complete by late 2020, and the SSC in late 2022.

Hopkins has been contacted for comment. The practice said within the planning documents for the scheme: ‘We intend that Hopkins Architects’ design for Eton College will add to our significant body of award-winning projects in and around London’.

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