Plan rejected for primary on busy Thornton Heath road

Education correspondent GENE BRODIE reports on an important decision for the future health of generations of school children taken at last night’s planning committee

Councillors on Croydon’s planning committee last night unanimously rejected a proposal to build a three-form-of-entry primary school on a small site beside a busy and polluting main road in Thornton Heath, in a belated about-turn from their recent decisions.

Paxton Principal Johnette Barrett and her staff face another year teaching their pupils in Portakabins

It means that the Paxton Academy, a science and sports specialism free school, faces the prospect of beginning its fourth year with its pupils housed in Portakabins at a nearby rugby club, presenting a further complication for the Department for Education’s land acquisition agency.

A local councillor said that the school’s pupils and their parents have “been let down terribly by the Department for Education, which should have found a suitable site for this school long ago”.

Finding appropriate sites for new schools is only going to get more difficult.

Last week, the DfE granted approval for yet another primary free school to be built in the north of the borough, where land values and property prices are soaring. This one is to be built for the Riddlesdown academy group which as yet has not determined where it is to site its publicly funded but independent of the local education authority school.

Johnette Barrett, Paxton Academy’s Principal, has known since 2013 that the site wanted for her primary was on London Road, just to the north of the busy Thornton Heath Ponds roundabout.

But complications over acquiring the site have seen delays heaped upon delay, and when the latest planning application was eventually put forward, it revealed that the academy’s leadership now wanted a four-storey building for more than 600 pupils, with the only open play space being provided on the roof overlooking a supermarket car park.

Previously, Croydon’s planning committee has granted permission for primary builds on cramped sites squeezed in alongside busy arterial roads, on the Purley Way and beside the Croydon Flyover.

Coming up blank: the Paxton Academy’s website page for the school’s permanent building today was blank of any information

But in the Town Hall last night, strong opposition to this latest proposal for Paxton was voiced by committee members Bernadette Khan and Jamie Audsley, both Labour councillors. Stuart King, like Khan a councillor for West Thornton where the school is located, also spoke against the application, and all 10 councillors on the committee, Tory and Labour, voted against.

Paxton has had a difficult time in its brief history, its first intake of pupils having spent weeks based in an office block on the Purley Way while there were delays in readying the Portakabins which have been its home since September 2014. Now they look likely to be its base for some time to come still.

In the midst of Tory government cuts to education spending, many are questioning the academisation policy, effectively another transference of money and property from the public sector, especially since recent reports suggest that land purchase and builds for academies are five times more expensive than schools built for local education authorities.

Stuart King: Paxton’s pupils have been let down by DfE

Paxton may now have to look for another, larger site, removed from the heavy polluting traffic of the A23 – though that would be no easy task – or instead consider scaling down its over-ambitious plans for London Road and propose a smaller school intake. Academy budgets are determined by the number of pupils, so ambitious heads and academy bean-counters always try to squeeze as many children into their schools as possible.

Today, King told Inside Croydon: “It is unacceptable that the pupils of Paxton Academy are facing a fourth year being taught in Portakabins in a rugby club car park. The school has been let down terribly by the Department for Education, which should have found a suitable site for this school long ago.

“However unacceptable the current educational environment might be, it would have been wrong for a school to have been built on a site that was too small to accommodate it, in a location with illegal levels of air pollution. I am pleased that the planning committee agreed unanimously with this view.”

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This entry was posted in Bernadette Khan, Education, Environment, Jamie Audsley, Paxton Academy, Planning, Schools, Stuart King, West Thornton and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Plan rejected for primary on busy Thornton Heath road

  1. “However unacceptable the current educational environment might be, it would have been wrong for a school to have been built on a site that was too small to accommodate it, in a location with illegal levels of air pollution.”
    But the very same could be said about the planning application to build 37 family flats on the narrow strip of land (15m wide) near Purley Oaks station, with noise levels so high mechanical ventilation is required, easy access to the railway, & a kids play area next to an electricity substation and turning circle for large vehicles. However unacceptable the housing situation might be, it would be wrong for these homes to be built on a site too small to accommodate it in a location with high levels of noise pollution and lack of safe amenity space (not to mention flood risk. Yet some members of the planning committee were happy to force this through with no regard to the risk to the physical & mental health of children who might live there in future. The lack of objective & considered decision making is astonishing.

  2. Lewis White says:

    Hurray ! Planning Committee councillors acting as they should, and doing the right thing. Intelligent Planning with a brain and conscience. Let’s have some more. Thanks to the councilors who stood up to say this was wrong.

    Air pollution not only has short term implications but long term health implications in later life.
    Children need a good start in good air quality to provide the foundation for a healthy life (not forgetting enough exercise, good food and sensible drinks too).

    Would it not be possible for Croydon to look pro-actively at sites for schools and find a shortlist of sites with playing field space as well as space for the school buildings and playground? Planning ahead– the right development on the site.

    I drove down the Purley Way a few days ago and passed the new primary school now being built. Clap bang up against the busiest main road in the Borough. This stupid development would have been eliminated if Croydon had a planning policy in place saying what sites are and are not suitable for school developments.

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