Education correspondent GENE BRODIE on more broken promises from Croydon Council’s planning department
Planning permission has been granted by Croydon Council for the permanent buildings for a 1,680-pupil school on re-designated Green Belt playing fields near Lloyd Park – but without any vital road safety scheme having been finalised.
Croydon Council’s planners have had 18 months’ notice, at least, of the intention to build the £30million Coombe Wood School on what was, until last year, publicly owned playing fields opposite Lloyd Park. Yet when the scheme went before the planning committee, the promised road safety scheme was still not finished.
The school opened its doors – to classrooms in Portakabins – for its first year intake last month. It could be September 2020 before those 180 new pupils get to have their first lessons in brick-built buildings. In the meantime, thousands of households in the suburban streets nearby are preparing themselves for daily disruption and construction traffic.
South Croydon residents who attended the Town Hall planning committee – which was chaired by councillor Paul Scott – came away shocked at the lack of detail and misinformation provided by the council’s professional planning staff, and the blithe manner in which some councillors who sit on the planning committee accepted that “everything will be alright on the night”.
As well as increased traffic on the already busy Coombe Road during the twice-a-day school runs, residents have had to endure complete gridlock in their suburban streets, when Coombe Wood’s senior staff failed to plan properly for the thousands of parents in cars who rolled up for an open evening.
Concerns over traffic volume, vehicle parking and road safety, particularly on crossings of the busy A212, had all been raised by residents during the planning process for the temporary buildings. But these worries were waved away by Scott, with assurances that the permanent build would have a robust transport safety plan in place.
Except the school now has planning permission, but without what residents regard as an adequate scheme.
The open evening traffic chaos had occured the day before the planning committee meeting. Residents arrived with photographic evidence of what they had feared, and predicted.
“It was clear that the school’s stated policy to co-operate with residents has been ignored,” one said.
“Scott urged the school to work with residents in the future to overcome such issues, but the committee refused to make any changes to the proposals, which will locate the school close to homes in Melville Avenue, some of whom will have to contend with the school’s bin store close to their properties.”
The plans for the first-phase building of the car park show heavy construction traffic entering the playing field from Coombe Road into Melville Avenue.
Objectors had to inform the committee – because the council’s professional planning department staff had failed to do so – that this was impossible as that junction is currently one-way from Melville into Coombe Road.
Lorries would instead have to travel along three roads – Castlemaine, Ballater and Melville – in order to access the building site.
Developer Wates Construction stated in their access proposals that, while they could consider an alternative route, through Conduit Lane and across the disused nursery site, it would “ultimately result in the inability of the school to open for September 2019 as planned”.
It was no surprise to residents that this was not mentioned during the planning hearing.
The traffic layout plan submitted to the committee had Melville Avenue’s junction with Coombe Road junction reverting to two-way use.
“But everyone involved – residents, the school and the builders, Wates – now favour retention of the one-way system which has stopped a lot of the ‘rat run’ drivers using Melville as a cut-through during peak times and made the road generally quieter most of the day, or at least until the school run begins,” the resident said.
According to figures submitted by the school to the planners, they anticipate just 12 per cent of pupils and staff to travel to and from school by car.
Coombe Wood is a sport specialist school, where the Folio Trust, which operates it, claims an emphasis will be placed on health and fitness; yet they predict just 2 per cent of their pupils – 34 of the 1,680 – will ride a bicycle to school each day. Fewer than 300 (15.8 per cent) will walk to school.
One senior Katharine Street figure warned that failing to have adequate transport plans in place around major construction projects, or for fully operational schools, with their thousands of journeys daily, is bound to end in misery for neighbouring residents.
“It’s a blank cheque mentality among our planners,” the Town Hall source said. “Much the same was allowed to happen when the planning department pushed through the Oasis Arena scheme – and even with that struggling school operating well below full capacity, residents nearby in South Norwood report daily problems with school teachers and parents parking on the neighbouring streets.
“Planning permission for that was granted without an agreed transport plan, and it is the residents who have had to deal with the consequences ever since.”
Which will hardly be reassuring to the residents near Coombe Wood School.
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