WALTER CRONXITE reports on the latest example of a school development which the council concedes could put the long-term health of generations of children at risk
The planning committee last night gave the go-ahead to build a school for four- to 11-year-olds so close to the Croydon Flyover that the council’s own senior planning officer says will, at times, have restricted use because of the pollution from passing traffic.
The Hindu ethos Krishna Avanti School will be built on what councillors were told was “a difficult site” on Southbridge Place. It will use the site previously used by the council’s educational psychological service known as Victoria House.
All but one of the councillors on the planning committee voted in favour of going ahead with the school build, despite the planning officer stating that there will be occasions during the summer months when the poor air quality around the school will mean that the children will have to be kept inside.
The school plans have been drawn up by TP Bennett, the firm of which Councillor Paul Scott, the chair of Croydon’s planning committee, is a director. Scott excused himself from any active role in this part of last night’s meeting.
The Krishna Avanti is the second primary school to be built close to a major road in Croydon at which poor air quality caused by car pollution has raised concerns for the health of pupils. Last year, permission was granted to build a 540-pupil primary for the Harris academy chain right next to the four-lane A23 Purley Way, where the pollution is already so bad that extra money is being spent to make the school “hermetically sealed” against the noxious air.
The proposals approved last night are for a two forms of entry school which will have a playground on top of the school, just below the A232 between Croydon and Duppas Hill.
Bensham Manor councillor Jamie Audlsey, a member of the planning committee, raised concerns about pollution at the site. In response, Pete Smith, a senior council planning official, told the committee that – according to a report by the applicant’s own experts – the site was below the recommended limit for pollutants.
The Krishna Avanti School site is within a quarter-mile of the point where Inside Croydon and Friends of the Earth recently conducted a street level air quality test, and found that pollution levels are almost twice the legal limit. The monitoring station is further removed from the Croydon Flyover than the proposed school, which would suggest that pollution levels there will be higher still than the findings of the Friends of the Earth test.
But this is not the first time that the council has fobbed off pollution concerns at a school planning application. When the Harris Purley Way Primary was going through the planning process, an unnamed council environment official reported that there was no need for undue concern about pollution from the A23, since it would be carried away on the prevailing winds.
Smith is Croydon Council’s head of development management. At last night’s meeting, he told Audsley that there would be times when the playground on top of the building would be off limits to children when pollution was high, “particularly during the summer months the playground might not be used during the rush hour”.
Audsley asked how the school’s teachers would judge whether it was safe to let children to play on the school roof. Smith said that it was “a judgement call by the teachers” and that it was “unfair to ask the school to have air quality equipment”.
Audsley asked for the matter to be deferred to allow councillors to understand the situation better. But he was the lone dissenter on the committee, which passed the application by seven votes, with Audsley’s abstention.
The application had to be brought before the committee after Waddon councillor Andrew Pelling, who is not a planning committee member, asked for the matter to be heard in public.
Pelling expressed concern that in future councillors would be criticised for giving permission for a school use of the site “when standards on pollution are likely to be tightened”.
Smith responded by suggesting that pollution levels could fall “in the future through less car use”. No one at the meeting thought that Smith was joking, even though Croydon’s head of development management really ought to know that the A232 Croydon Flyover will be one of the main routes into the new Westfield supermall, with its 3,500 car parking spaces, when – or if – it is ever built.
Pelling had pushed for pupils and their parents to be encouraged to walk to the school by having surface level crossings between the site and Old Town. But he was told by Smith that the application for a 360-pupil school was not big enough to justify such an idea. Pelling said that the underground subways underneath the flyover connecting the site to Old Town are dangerous.
Pelling said that the applicant’s advisers had told him that demand for school places from Croydon’s Old Town area would be limited; the school’s trustees expect most of its pupils to come from Hindu families in South Croydon.
That this will be another school in Waddon ward with pupils travelling into the area for schooling has led Waddon’s councillors to raise concerns about the Croydon Plan, which is currently subject to review by an independent inspector.
The Southbridge Place school will be Waddon’s 11th school, bringing the total number of pupils attending schools in the ward to more than 6,000.
Waddon councillors are outspoken on the pressure being put on local roads by the number of school places well above local demand.
Today, Pelling told Inside Croydon: “I am concerned for the future personal liability of individual teachers who are going to have to make the call as to whether it is safe to let the children out to play. I know from contact with previous staff at this site that filth from the road above is a persistent challenge.”
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