Croydon Council planners have rejected proposals to build a primary school close to one of south London’s busiest road junctions on the Purley Way.
In a rare example of Croydon’s planning department displaying clarity of thought and common sense, after nearly a decade of pondering they have come to a conclusion that ought to have been obvious from the start: the site is too small for the 720-pupil school, and in any case we should not be exposing the developing lungs of thousands of youngsters to the fumes and pollutants which hang around in the atmosphere at Fiveways.
The rejection of the four-form-of-entry Fiveways Academy is buried in a technical report on council capital spending sent to an obscure committee of the council that comprises only some less-well-regarded back-bench councillors. The scrutiny and overview committee is due to meet at the Town Hall tomorrow evening.
The school was to be built not far from the Waddon Leisure Centre, close to the often grid-locked and heavily polluted Fiveways junction.
The site was only released for use as part of the school-building drive after the previous, Tory administration at the Town Hall failed in their attempt to become speculators with public property under the disastrous CCURV – Croydon urban regeneration vehicle – joint venture with John Laing. The land was to be used as part of the Propeller Crescent housing scheme, but phase two was dropped.
The land lies derelict and overgrown behind forlorn and tattered boarding dressed in the council’s fading purple colours, festooned with fly-posting and old promises from the Conservative council that the development “is due for completion in 2012”.
It has taken until 2015 for planners to put a big road block to the scheme.
Their report talks of “…pre-app planning advice that the initial plan of a 4FE [four forms of entry] school would be over development of the site and would not be supported primarily due to transport related matters.”
Off-the-record, the planners are understood to have told the school’s operators that their planned academy would create far too many car movements on the already log-jammed Purley Way.
The site stands across the busy four-lane A23 from Wing Yip, the Chinese hypermarket and other businesses which attract private vehicles and trade HGVs. Transport for London’s recent consultation on the Purley Way and Fiveways has offered little to reduce traffic volumes at one of the capital’s busiest intersections.
It is only a decade since another school stood on the same site, only to be demolished. But that’s the public sector for you when it comes to wasting public money.
The old Red Gates School for children with severe or profound and multiple learning difficulties has been re-located to Monks Hill. When it was moved it seemed to make sense to take a school away from such a busy road with so much exhaust emissions.
That is now the conventional planning wisdom. It was late last year that a Commons select committee suggested that building schools next to big main roads should be halted, with lung damage to young children being a risk in school playgrounds where they might inhale car exhaust including nitrogen dioxide.
What has also emerged before Croydon’s scrutiny committee is a secret switch, unannounced publicly by the council, of the academy chain which was to run the school. Instead of the Oasis chain, the public cash is to be spent on providing yet another school for the management of the Harris Federation.
Oasis’s frustration with the slow rate of progress with Fiveways school can be sensed without much reading-between the lines on their website: “Following a number of challenges last summer that were beyond our control, it was decided to postpone the opening until September 2016. After a review of our priorities as an organisation, and the investment of time and resources that would be necessary to open the school offering the high standards that Oasis insists upon, we have taken the decision not to open the Academy.”
With the school now squeezed down to fewer than 120 pupils per year group to fit on to the site, and serious reservations about air quality in the area, there must be a question mark over whether Harris will actually go ahead.
Naming the school after a notoriously snarled and polluting road junction really ought to have been a warning sign to begin with.
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