Our education correspondent, GENE BRODIE, on the slow progress at Croydon’s new selective school
South Croydon residents were shocked last week when street notices appeared, followed by letters through their doors, announcing an unexpected new planning application not only to retain the present Portakabin school off Coombe Road, but to double its size to house another 180 pupils arriving in September.
Coombe Wood School is run by the Folio Trust, an academy chain based at Wallington County Grammar School for Boys. It opened to its first Year 7 intake in temporary accommodation six months ago on what was previously Green Belt playing fields, opposite Lloyd Park. Coombe Wood operates on a part-selective basis, with 10 per cent of its intake chosen based on their sporting aptitude.
Folio Trust is the happy recipient of a £30million building programme at Coombe Wood. But delays in building the first stage of the permanent school mean it will not be ready in September as planned.
Originally, the temporary classrooms being used this school year would have been removed during this summer’s holiday, following completion of the first stage of the permanent buildings.
Planning and approval delays have seriously affected that schedule, including the London Mayor’s office finally granting clearance last month after Croydon’s submission of various undertakings relating to the development. Fingers are now firmly crossed for fair weather with no further hitches to interrupt the build.
Council executives at Fisher’s Folly are hopeful the school buildings will be ready around Autumn 2020, but nobody is rushing to Ladbrokes to bet on that just yet.
The latest planning application includes the underpinning of the present Portakabin classrooms ahead of a further tier being dropped on top of them. Supporting documents reveal the need for extensive earthworks on the site prior to the extra six class-cabins arriving to avoid the chance of the temporary school sinking into the playing field due to the original foundations not being designed to take the extra layer.
Consultants’ assessments also show it will involve more than 500 vehicle movements on and off the site over a 10- to 15-week period, using the one entrance on Melville Avenue, where residents still hold fond memories of when they lived on a quite residential street.
All construction traffic will be routed via Castlemaine and Ballater roads before trundling along Melville Avenue to the vehicle gate, also used for the school’s staff car park and supply vehicles.
The most worrying aspect of the new application for residents is the absence of the same highway safety improvements which were applied to the plan approved for the permanent school. These include various traffic calming measures along the busy Coombe Road, and a wider pavement on the track side from Lloyd Park tram stop to connect with a new Toucan light-controlled crossing 100metres up from Melville Avenue – all intended to guide the children, some as young as 11, safely across the busy main road and into the school grounds.
These road improvements formed an important part of the planning approval for Stage 1 of the permanent school with 360 pupils.
However, this latest planning application does not require any road improvements despite having the same number of children attending the school as was planned for the permanent building.
It could look like the council planning department is taking a gamble with the safety of hundreds of children by not requiring the implementation of the safety measures in time for the extra intake to the temporary school in September.
The planning application for the enlarged Portakabin academy seems likely to be brought before the planning committee, though whether any of the councillors decide to make the safety of children going to and from the school an issue, and insist that the additional temporary buildings can only be allowed on condition that the already agreed road safety measures are in place, remains to be seen.
Coombe Wood staff already have to be “on duty” before and after the school day to supervise their naturally boisterous pupils who use the tram. That involves them crossing Coombe Road and on to Castlemaine Road, with its dangerous three-way traffic flow, before finally reaching the relative safety of the pedestrian crossing at Melville Avenue. Plastic cones also have to be put out, daily, to keep sections of the neighbouring roads clear.
Residents have voiced concerns over the lack of the temporary school’s road safety measures since the first intake of children arrived last September. The urgent need for yellow “school keep clear” zigzag markings to stop parent parking at the school entrance was ignored by the school and council planners alike. It could be Easter before the council manages to deploy a workman with a pot of yellow paint and a roller.
Residents continue to express serious concerns about the lack of safety improvements. One commented that, with pupil numbers soon to double, Melville Avenue could well become grid-locked at certain times, impeding the free movement of the vital transport serving the disabled children attending the Rutherford School in the same road.
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