Residents in South Croydon have had their road closed off and streams of muddy water flowing down their street, as the construction of Coombe Wood School has created another flood of complaints. GENE BRODIE, our education correspondent, reports
“I suppose this is the sort of climate change thing you can expect when your local council takes away Green Belt protection from playing fields to allow them to be concreted over,” one angry resident said, as a stream of dirty, muddy water washed past their front door on Melville Avenue over the weekend.
Each new storm brings another cascade of overflow water down the resident street in South Croydon from the site where Wates are rushing to complete the permanent buildings for a 1,680-pupil selective school which is due to open in September.
Currently, it is an eyesore draped in its purple protective coverings.
Residents voiced their latest concerns about the troubled project last autumn, over the amount of rainwater flowing from the site entrance.
In December, after heavy rain struck the weekend after the site’s closure for Christmas, large amounts of muddy water flowed out of the site entrance, overloading drains in Melville Avenue and Coombe Road.
One angry resident emailed Wates suggesting they send staff to the site urgently to investigate. There was no reply until the builders returned to the site in January. In the meantime, the new River Melville just carried on flowing…
When Wates did bother to respond, they offered little assurance, other than that the surrounding roads were being swept every day by a street cleaning vehicle.
As you might imagine, this did little to put residents’ minds at rest.
The cause of this regular overflow, apart from the unusually heavy rainfall in recent months, has not been explained. Certainly, long-standing residents in Melville Road confirm that there was never any of this kind of localised water flow before the construction work began on the site, and it was still playing fields.
One suggestion is that the flooding relates to the installation last autumn of the school’s water percolation system, designed to trap rainwater and divert it for school use.
After a few weeks of drier weather, the “River Melville” sprang up again last week following Storm Dennis. The water tends to be a muddy clay colour.
Drains already blocked from the previous outpourings failed to cope, leaving parts of Melville Avenue resembling a washed-out beach. One resident told Inside Croydon they had sent the site manager three emails about the latest flooding. All were ignored.
Last November saw the latest heated meeting between the residents, site management and school staff. More than 35 residents were present to protest about the overflowing water and other issues with Wates and Coombe Wood’s head. Such were the numbers, the meeting had to be relocated to the hall in the temporary portacabin school.
Residents voiced concerns about the detrimental effect the school was having on their quality of life. Wates management assured them then that the school’s drainage system had been stress-tested and was fit for purpose.
Despite this, water has continued to flow from the site whenever there is heavy rainfall, leaving residents far from trusting of the work in moving vast areas of earth from the playing field to other parts of the site.
Other complaints included the closeness of the school building to some houses in the lower part of the road, with owners having serious concerns that the back rooms and gardens were now overlooked. Similar concerns had been raised at the council’s planning committee in 2018, but were waved away as groundless by the council’s planning department and committee chair, Paul Scott.
No solution was offered, other than some of the top-storey classrooms would instead be used as offices.
Many residents voiced annoyance over the continuing inconsiderate parking by parents at drop-off and pick-up times. There was clearly a higher than expected number of the school’s current roll of 350 pupils being delivered and collected by car to this sports specialist school – even though there is a tram stop nearby, and the council planners relied heavily on the school’s travel plan to suggest that the majority of pupils would use public transport.
Residents were concerned with so many parent cars arriving all at once that the risk of an accident involving a pupil had increased.
There is the continuing problem of some of the “Chelsea Tractor”-driving parents blocking residents’ driveways, especially at afternoon pick-up times, with many drivers polluting the air by keeping their engines idling.
Barry Laker, the school head, tried to defend his refusal to confront offending parents over their parking and waiting habits. This inflamed those residents affected, who demanded he take more responsibility towards the environment and to the road safety of his pupils.
Attempts to have the road included in the 2020 School Streets Zone consultation process, designed to stop such vehicle movements, were welcomed by most residents but the school refused to support such an application, effectively ruling it out for at least a year.
Pupil numbers will rise dramatically once the permanent school opens in September, and will likely bring an increase in the number of cars.
Commuters and residents have also been affected by the Wates construction workers taking up most of the available parking bays in the surrounding roads. Previously, they had been given assurances that all site workers would use the on-site car park, but this area appears to be used fully for delivery and storage of the construction materials.
As if to add insult to injury, last week, residents also had to contend with a seven-day closure of Melville Avenue without any advanced notice or reason from the council, while it was dug up on behalf of the builders.
The additional road safety improvements proposed to keep young children safe when crossing busy Coombe Road, including the installation of a toucan crossing, a requirement of the planning approval, continue to be changed from the plans which were approved by the council planning committee. The location of the new crossing has again been altered and it will now replace the traffic island close to Melville Avenue.
Residents’ observations over the dangerous flaws with the positioning of the crossing have met with a council response that the amended design has been produced “in agreement with specialists and approved by the council and Department for Education”. There had been no consultation. There was supposed to have been a crossing in place before the school opened, in its temporary cabins, nearly two years ago.
In a borough where other secondary schools are closing for lack of pupils, the race is now on for Wates to complete the £30million project on behalf of the education trust based in a Sutton grammar school, in time for the start of the next school year in September. If they don’t, there could be problems: the planning permission for school’s temporary cabins will have expired by then.
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