Is it time to park ill-considered plans for the Arena Academy?

Councillor ANDREW PELLING suggests that the mounting case against building a secondary academy at the Croydon Arena will get a thorough hearing at tonight’s planning committee

My colleagues on the council’s planning committee will want to ask some pertinent questions this evening when they get a first look at plans to try to fit  a 915-pupil and 120-teacher secondary academy on a restricted primary school site near the South Norwood Country Park.

The Arena secondary school proposals present massive problems for local roads and transport

The Arena secondary school proposals present massive problems for local roads and transport

Although well-served by the Arena tram stop, any large development at this location has always been seen as a great challenge because of the ladders of heavily parked narrow streets that run to the site.

As a London Assembly Member, I had a previous involvement for the area when there were proposals for a leisure centre at the Arena. I felt then, and the council eventually concluded, that the local roads just could not cope with the volumes of traffic that a leisure centre would have created. Those plans were dropped.

A report from the council’s planners ahead of tonight’s meeting sets out in delightfully understated terms just how challenging a development of any significant size could be for traffic management in this part of South Norwood.

The planners paint a picture of cars hovering around the streets trying to find a place to drop off children with “vehicles circulating residential streets when looking for a place to drop off/pick up students”. There are typically very few places free to park.

The planners also feel that they need to warn councillors that “the increase risk in road safety terms will be a factor for further consideration”.

Because of the expected congestion, there would need to be extra green time at traffic lights for cars, and thus less time for pedestrians. That’s not an attractive outcome.

You might hope that pupils and staff would use public transport, but much of the pressure for extra school places comes from the north-west of the borough, not from the locality where this school is being provided on the borough boundary with Bromley. Partly for reasons of old political boundaries and very practical geographical reasons, A23 to A215 direct public transport links are non-existent.

The 130 bus route cannot solve all the transport issues presented by the proposed Arena school

The 130 bus route cannot solve all the transport issues presented by the proposed Arena school

The very long-awaited introduction of an extension of the 130 bus route to Thornton Heath from South Norwood will open up a public transport route from the border of north-west Croydon to north-east Croydon.

The 130 is quite a long bus route, including service responsibilities around different parts of New Addington, and so it is subject to possible disruptions. It will not be that strong a transport link and will not reach the A23 London Road.

Councillors’ scepticism about previous work undertaken outside the planning department to predict traffic effects of the proposed academy school, which is intended for the Oasis academy chain, appear to be moving towards a more realistic set of expectations of the scheme’s impact.

The proposal has already been scaled down, with the removal of a sixth form with a likely further 250 pupils.

Separately, plans to use quite a lot of Metropolitan Open Land, a major and expensive rebuild of the Croydon Arena, and the unrealistically laughable, and unfair, suggestion that Croydon FC plays on park playing fields – which would have led to the FA’s expulsion of the club from its current league – have also been dropped.

The realities of trying to fit a school for 1,035 people on a site that used to serve 435 primary school children are pretty challenging.

To try to mitigate the effects on parking there is a proposed drop-off zone, despite such an approach being contrary to the council’s green travel policies. The drop-off zone manages to compress the available site even more.

A much more intense car parking provision is proposed on Metropolitan Open Land. Typically, inappropriate development of Metropolitan Open Land should be refused under the London Plan.

The reality is that the site can probably only accommodate a four-form entry school, for 600 pupils at best. Four-form entry schools have long been regarded as being uneconomical, though perhaps a split site operation with Oasis Shirley Park might work in some configuration or other.

Plans to rebuild the entrance to the Arena would need to be managed in such a way as to keep turnstiles working during the football season, or else the FA would not allow Croydon FC – where I was once vice-chairman – to play there. Access for Croydon Harriers and others who use the running track and athletics facilities will, too, need to be guaranteed, especially if – as feared – Crystal Palace stadium is bulldozed, displacing the hundreds of young athletes who train there every Tuesday, Thursday and Sunday.

Sentiment towards the new school in the local community was damaged by the previous consultation process’s very aggressive stance, where residents were openly derided by council officials for expressing their concerns and told in no uncertain terms that their views would be ignored because of the overriding legal responsibilities of the council to provide for school places.

A suitable site for a school for nearly 1,000 pupils? Croydon's planning committee discusses the plans tonight

A suitable site for a school for nearly 1,000 pupils? Croydon’s planning committee discusses the plans tonight

It does seem, though, that councillors are persuading officials to change the tone of the conversation, reminding them that they have a responsibility to the local community as well as to officials in Whitehall.

Oasis, the private organisation which would sponsor the academy, has found itself the victim of the poisoned atmosphere that the poorly managed consultations created in the neighbourhood. But they have hardly helped their own cause, either.

Oasis’ suggestion that the Ryelands Primary school site is in the heart of Croydon, which clearly it is not, did them no favours, and by overstating their description of the locality as being one of the worst possible for social deprivation, they have managed to insult residents. With Oasis dominant in education in the locality, some residents also worry about a lack of local choice for parents and students.

Unexplained volatility in local authority predictions for school place demand has also undermined local confidence. In a response from residents to a scrutiny committee in 2012, the council was accused of exaggerating the demand for school places to justify the academy plans: “In April 2012, the projection was an additional 22 Forms of Entry by 2020. Council documents revised projections to 50 Forms of Entry by 2020. What has changed in a year?”

According to residents, reception classes for September 2013 were also a predictor for a 21-form shortfall in the first year of secondary in five years’ time, assuming a continuing trend in Croydon of people seeking education outside the borough.

Public reports to council are paltry in the information provided by the council to justify their own projections, but it is asserted that after 2019, demand in the secondary sector will rise very quickly indeed. Oral reports from officers at Croydon council’s cabinet suggest that this demand is primarily down the western side of the borough, well away from the Arena site – though this assessment was subsequently denied at a council scrutiny committee.

Controversially at that scrutiny committee, councillors were advised that people living in the north of the borough were unhappy living in north Croydon as they aspired to move out but could not afford to leave. Blessed with this broad brush analysis of the supposedly typical north Croydon “reluctant resident”, councillors were told that therefore, secondary school place demand would be strong in the north of the borough.

The prospect of Croydon College providing an 11-18 school at their central Croydon site, with its exceptional transport links, the high-performing Wallington Boys in Sutton looking to open a school in south-western Croydon, the desire of St Andrew’s to expand by two forms of entry in Waddon and the new secondary school at the old General Hospital site all suggest that schools sited to meet demand in the north-west and west of the borough might make my colleagues’ concerns at the planning meeting easier to express.

Of course, disturbing a possible funding flow of millions of pounds of public money for a new Oasis school is a concern when the Croydon College and Wallington schemes are further down the track in terms of delivery. But these considerations ought not to concern a planning committee.

  • Andrew Pelling is a Labour councillor for Waddon ward. He is a former Conservative MP for Croydon Central and London Assembly Member for Sutton and Croydon

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3 Responses to Is it time to park ill-considered plans for the Arena Academy?

  1. Mary Wolf says:

    One of the counter-arguments to the amount of traffic ‘hovering’ to drop-off and pick up for the proposed secondary school could be that there must be a smaller proportion of pupils needing to use lifts in a secondary school than in a primary so the problem might not be so huge. And there’s the tram.

    But what is not mentioned, in your piece anyway, is that this demand will be IN ADDITION to the current demand from Ryelands School.

    Ryelands Primary will not just disappear to make way for the Secondary on its site. It will move into the former South Norwood High (a matter of maybe 200 metres away) between Oakley and Sandown Roads which is being transformed, right now, to accommodate the Primary from next Summer. Residents are, of course, already concerned about the impact of the change of location, and therefore of focus, for parking/dropping off/picking up for the Primary.

  2. KristianCyc says:

    Disturibing to hear school places spoken of as optional and second priority to maintaining car-dominated streets.

    To ensure this highly destructive mode of transport doesn’t further threaten the future of Croydon’s children the council should consider implementing targets for reducing private car usage and ownership and then deliver on those targets. Instead it looks like Croydon is gearing up for an increase in private motor traffic as part of the Westfield development.

    If Croydon carries on with the status quo then future school developments will also be cancelled due to the transport situation. This should be a wake up call for seriously rethinking the transport strategy.

  3. pcgoodie00 says:

    “Money doesn’t grow on trees” – Eoin Burns, Assistant Design Manager, Willmott Dixon – working on both the CALAT and Arena builds, diary published in Construction Manager, Magazine of the Chartered Institute of Building. 1 June 2014.

    As a local resident and mother of two primary aged children, I am particularly concerned that the council budget for this school is already far too stretched to address all the issues that require mitigation. I have read the planning report and the section on “Parking and Highways” again raises issues of cost – and this is definitely not an issue that should be settled by a compromise due to lack of funds!

    Extract from Parking and Highways, section 4:30;
    There is an existing and underlying level of road traffic injury accidents in the local area does need addressing – bearing in mind the potential for further pedestrian and vehicular activity. The suggested changes to the traffic signals involve increasing the proportion of the “green” time for vehicles to offset the increase in vehicular traffic attracted to the school.This might well reduce the time available for pedestrians. This is potentially a costly scheme that may not be in keeping with the Council’s broader policy objectives.
    [PLANNING COMMITTEE AGENDA 22 October 2014 – PART 8: Development Presentations]

    I would love to know the most recent estimated cost for the Oasis Arena build. It seems to me that the £16 million Targeted Basic Need Funding from government, assigned to this project,  could be better targeted somewhere else. Eoin Burns is writing a diary entry right from the heart of the CALAT redesign and as you can see from the extract below, the thorny issue of cost savings has already been a factor there.

    Of course projects over-run, but the problem with the Oasis Arena build is that it has a mountain of costs already associated with making the project safe for all those living and working in this highly congested, residential area. It is well documented that the need for school places is in the North West and Centre of the borough, not here in the North East. It is to be hoped that the council rethinks this deeply unpopular build, especially given the number of other new secondary free schools that are in progress.

    Eoin Burns, Assistant Design Manager, Willmott Dixon: 

    Wednesday

    We’re at a Croydon Council office today with the client and their quantity surveyor to review the budget for Oakley Road. The fact is that there have been some cost over-runs so we’re looking for savings. We’ve got an idea but once again, the architect won’t like it.
    We had discussed replacing the windows of the existing building. However, we suspect the planners will say that if we replace any, we’ll have to replace the lot, and they’ll all have to retain the heritage look. In fairness, it will cost a fortune, so we agree not touch the windows, saving around £373,000.
    It won’t be fun breaking the news to the architect and to be honest I can completely see why the architect wanted to replace the windows. But money doesn’t grow on trees. 

    Thursday 

    Another meeting with Croydon today about how to tackle the other school we’re working on, the 1,165-pupil Oasis Arena Post Primary, which will be on the former site of Ryelands school. Peter and I convince the client to scrap a plan to demolish the existing school and rebuild from scratch. Instead we’ll incorporate the building into our new scheme. The plan makes a lot of sense: the existing structure is only 20 years old so it should have a few decades left in it.

    http://www.construction-manager.co.uk/agenda/2014/6/

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