Among our council’s initial responses to the borough’s school places crisis was to propose to build on public open land next to the Arena in South Norwood, something firmly rejected by local residents. As HAMIDA ALI reports, the council still cannot answer many questions about the scheme
It was a fairly negative mood in the packed United Reform Church Hall last Wednesday as the council briefed residents on their latest plans for a new secondary school at the Croydon Arena site.
So, two consultation meetings, a scrutiny meeting and a tender for providers later, Tim Pollard, the deputy leader of the council, opened the meeting taking care to introduce it as a “Public Information Meeting” – and definitely not a consultation meeting, in line with the vagaries of the council’s planning process.
Despite the consistently high level of public interest at previous public meetings, there were murmurs among residents about the lack of publicity for the session, to which around 70 people had turned out. Inside Croydon publicised it, as did Labour’s Woodside Action Team who wrote to residents around the site. It was noticeable that not
one of the three Conservative councillors for Ashburton ward – including
Adam Kellett, who has publicly opposed the plans for the school – were at
Pollard reported on a range of changes the council had now made to the initial plans – evidence in his view that the council is listening.
These changes included building on a single site, rather than splitting a new school between the Arena and former CALAT buildings, achieved by persuading Ryelands Primary School to move to Sandown Road. Pollard also reported that by building on a single site, there would be no need to build on Metropolitan Open Land.
Governors and the head teacher at Ryelands Primary made it clear that they had agreed to the move in principle, but while it offers their school a number of benefits, they remain vigilant in their negotiations with the council. If the move goes ahead as proposed, Ryelands would begin the 2014-2015 school year on their new site next September.
Pollard made sure to remind the room about the acute demand for school places in Croydon, now affecting our primary schools but inevitably will move up the year bands to affect secondary schools before long, stating that the council needs to find an extra 30 secondary classes over the next four years.
As daunting as the figures are, they weren’t enough to convince this particular congregation, many of whom didn’t buy either the need for school places or the need for one with a school population topping 1,300. The council was adamant that this was an issue on which they couldn’t budge. Yet it was one of the biggest issues for residents – apprehensive about the sheer numbers of pupils who would be either making their way to school on the tram or across the country park. Sensible questions about the potential for added tram services to help with the added human traffic were asked, but officials were not able to answer these points.
Residents weren’t convinced on the location either, suggesting that there must be other candidates, including the Croydon General Hospital site. Pollard pointed out that it wasn’t a case of “either or” for the council: they intend to develop both sites for secondary schools.
Although Gavin Barwell, the MP for Croydon Central, naturally backed up his Conservative colleague Pollard, even he highlighted issues that were still outstanding for him, such as parking and traffic management, which the council accepted required a dedicated traffic needs assessment which had not been conducted and so they could offer no further information or reassurance.
The MP also thought that concerns around the behaviour of pupils were unresolved. Steve Chalke, the founder of Oasis Community Learning, the organisation which would run the Arena academy, proudly told the meeting about how the behaviour of pupils at Oasis Shirley Park, the one-time Ashburton community school – which Chalke said had once been known as “Trashburton” – was now so improved that “drivers stop and applaud the students’ behaviour at the traffic lights”.
It’s fair to say that residents took little comfort from that – although while understandable, I wonder how fair we’re being to our young people?
Paul Scott, a Labour councillor for Woodside ward, brought a sense of realism to the room. Croydon’s school places deficit is the worst in the country but by no means had the council answered its critics on its proposals. He shared the view of many in the room that there could have been other sites and that the school could have been smaller in size but that the council had clearly made its decision.
Now that that was done, his concern was to get the best deal for Woodside’s young people – concerned that without a new school, catchments around South Norwood and Shirley Park would draw in leaving Woodside’s young people without access to a local school. He agreed there were real concerns about parking and traffic management and that the council’s plans needed real scrutiny. The council still has questions to answer.
Coming to Croydon
- Lakes Playground group’s fundraising Zumba-ween: Oct 26
- PJ’s enterprising look at Black History Month: Oct 29
- The Railway Children: Oct 30-Nov 2
- St Giles School open morning: Nov 13
- Secret Love at the Ashcroft Theatre: Nov 14
- Future Tech City: Nov 30
- Inside Croydon: Croydon’s only independent news source, based in the heart of the borough – 262,183 page views (Jan-Jun 2013)
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