GENE BRODIE, our education correspondent, on a possible set-back for Croydon’s £30million new selective school
The arrival of a group of travellers, setting up camp on what was until recently Green Belt playing fields, could jeopardise the planned September opening of the new Coombe Wood selective school.
With no sign of any construction work to build the temporary accommodation for the first 240 children due to attend the school in just 13 weeks’ time, the arrival of travellers on Friday evening could delay the project beyond the start of the new school term.
Any risk of delay to the school opening will be an added headache for Folio Education Trust, the Sutton grammar-based operators who are also having to handle mounting concerns from residents over the lack of any road safety measures being installed to protect the pupils walking alongside the busy Coombe Road.
Residents who called Croydon Council about the arrival of the travellers were told, “Nothing can be done until next week.” Over the past six weeks, groups of travellers (not necessarily the same one) have been moved on from illegal camps set up in Duppas Hill Park and the car park of Sainsbury’s on the Purley Way, although enforcement action was never a speedy matter.
At Coombe Wood, witnesses report that the entrance gate and height restrictor, which had been closed early on Friday, were seen to be wide open once the travellers had arrived.
Around a dozen caravans and camper vans have parked across the playing field, together with an assortment of cars, vans and small trucks. They have installed their own generator and look to be settled in for some time.
Residents of Melville Avenue, whose gardens back on to the playing fields, have expressed their concerns that more travellers might soon arrive to join the group, while the gate remains open and unsecured.
Travellers have visited the site in the past; then, the police refused to enter the site until a court order had been obtained.
“I called the council to report this ‘illegal encampment’, as they describe it on their website, and a recorded message said they’re not open again until Monday,” one frustrated resident told Inside Croydon. “They’re probably too busy sipping their Waitrose Prosecco celebrating the Westfield news.
“According to the council website, they do have a policy in place for dealing with this, but let’s see how long they take to implement it. From my previous experience, the police are loath to get involved.”
Meanwhile, planning notices have recently appeared near the playing fields advising that an application has been submitted for the £30million permanent buildings on the green open space.
The notices state that the development would, in the opinion of the council’s planners – who after all removed the Green Belt protection from the site in the first place – “affect the setting of a building of special architectural or historic interest as defined by Section 1 of the Planning (Listed Buildings and Conservation Areas) Act 1990”.
The building in question is thought to be Le Chateau restaurant, further along Coombe Lane.
Work to build the permanent buildings for the 1,680-pupil school is expected to be undertaken in two phases, between 2019 and 2020.
In the meantime, the eight forms of 11- and 12-year-olds expecting to start at “big school” in September are to have their classrooms in temporary cabins. But the clock is ticking and there must be groundwork to be done and security fencing and play areas installed, potentially to be handed over to the school by August to be fitted out.
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This might all be a cunning plan by the travellers with only 13 weeks to go before the opening of the Pseudo Grammar School. Perhaps their vehicles are the temporary buildings which the Folly Educational Trust will be teaching in when September arrives? This appears to be the only effort to start development on the site.