Battlebridge: Concerns over new primary school plans debated

This week, Reigate & Banstead Planning Committee members discussed Surrey County Council’s plans to build a new primary school at Battlebridge Lane.

The Committee voted to object to the application – because of the impacts it would have on traffic and the lack of safe routes for children to walk or cycle to school.

This was welcome.  We (the Redhill East councillors) have long questioned if this is the right place for the school – though we have never questioned the need for a school in the north Redhill area, which is very pressing.

The council officers had recommended ‘No objection’. But all those who spoke in the debate acknowledged that this was not an easy decision to make.

Residents’ concerns

Mr Mills, who lives 300m from the site, spoke on behalf of local residents.  His very clear presentation covered four points:

  • Green Belt – and the failure to evaluate alternative sites properly
  • The small size of the site – Mr Mills pointed out that at less than a hectare, the site is less than half the size of St Matthew’s and Wray Common schools, which have the same number of children. Even the one-form entry primary school being built in Horley is bigger – though it will have half the number of children.
  • Traffic impacts
  • Lack of safe walking and cycling routes

Flawed assessment of alternative sites

When it was my turn to speak I mainly concentrated on the flaws in the Alternative Site Assessment conducted by Surrey County Council and Alliance Planning.

To justify locating the school on this Green Belt site, Surrey had to show that there were no suitable alternative sites.

To do this they said they’d assessed 19 possible sites against 11 criteria; the results were summarised in a table presented as part of the planning documents.

However the table threw up as many questions as it answered. For a start, four new sites had been added to the list we’d been shown previously – and the document suggested these had been added as a result of requests at the open evening in May this year.  Which means they were added after Battlebridge Lane had been chosen and plans already drawn up for the school on that site.

Also, the ranking system was crude, the criteria were applied inconsistently, and some of the rankings were just plain incomprehensible.

I had to describe this in detail as the planning officer’s report to the committee hadn’t covered it. At my request, an addendum had been made available before the meeting, but people hadn’t had a chance to read it and the crucial table was reproduced so small it couldn’t be read.

I went on and on and on

I spoke for a long time, which I didn’t enjoy, but I had a lot to say and I’d waited a long time to say it.

I was scared I’d bore people to death, so it was good to hear people laughing and gasping when I described some of the oddities in the site assessment process.

For anyone who wants the detail, you can download the notes I wrote to speak from.  I didn’t actually say all this of course – it would have taken far too long, and I didn’t need to cover all the traffic points, as Mr Mills had covered them.

Traffic is people’s top concern

Debate followed and many of the committee members expressed concerns about the traffic particularly.

There was less discussion about the site assessment. Cllr Crome said he felt the “site assessment was done robustly but there is always room for improvement”.  I’m not sure what he meant by “robust”.

Unusually for a planning debate, no-one discussed the building or details of the proposed changes on the site.

Objections to the development

When the debate concluded, I moved my Reason for Objection, on the grounds that as the assessment of alternative sites had been flawed, Surrey CC had not demonstrated very special circumstances to justify building on the Green Belt.

As many committee members had been concerned about the traffic impacts, Cllr Broad suggested moving a second Reason for Objection on those grounds.

Only two other members voted for my Objection. This was disappointing – and I’m still mystified why more didn’t, as several members have since privately said to me how shocked they were about the poor job Surrey CC did on the assessment.

However a majority of the committee members voted for the second, traffic-related Objection.

Cllr Crome then asked if he could be recorded as the person who had proposed that Objection but Cllr Brunt felt that he should be the proposer, allowing Cllr Crome to second it.  I found this amusing – as of course Cllr Broad had actually proposed it – and a bit galling, as I had asked the planning officers to draft me a Reason for Objection on those lines and been advised it would “send a clearer message to Surrey” if I stuck to just one objection.  Next time I will use my own judgement.

Further delays

I’m glad that that the Borough is formally objecting to the proposal, and that the important points about transport will be made.

But I’m sorry that the debate about alternative sites seems to be over as far as the Borough Council is concerned.

Now we’ve been told that the Surrey County Council Highways team also has concerns with the highways and transport assessments submitted and have asked for further work to be carried out. We’ve heard that they were pressed into submitting the application to Reigate & Banstead before they were ready.

And the business case for the school has still to be discussed by the Surrey CC Cabinet too.  This has been postponed several times and now won’t happen until February at the earliest.  The Property team is still “value engineering” the project, apparently.

Into the breach once more…

I will continue to raise my serious concerns about the proposal to build a school on this site.

Thank you to all the many people who have contacted me and other Councillors about this.

I have heard from so many people who went to a lot of time and effort to read and understand the planning documents. Let’s hope that the Surrey planning officers and planning committee members are doing the same.

 

Read more

We challenge Surrey County Council’s lack of research into potential school sites (an article from August 2012)

 

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4 Comments

  1. Kate Ma
    Posted Friday, 6 December 2013 at 9:22 pm | Permalink

    Thank you for the anxiety you have created for me as a parent of a limetree pupil – forced there because of the shortage of school places. It’s all very well criticising the county council but I don’t recall the campaigning from any of you for additional school places any earlier. I hope you’re all very proud of yourselves for obstructing this. We need premises by September 2015 for our children when the current temporary site becomes too small. I hope you bear that mind while carrying out your delaying tactics. Ridiculous point scoring from the Green Party – just confirming my view that you’re not fit to govern. No votes here.

    • Councillor Sarah Finch
      Posted Saturday, 7 December 2013 at 3:04 pm | Permalink

      Hi Kate

      I’m sorry for the anxiety you’re going through – and that you have (presumably) been forced to send your child across town to a temporary school. It’s an inexcusable mess. We’ve actually been campaigning for new school places ever since we’ve had Green councillors in Redhill (3½ years) – asking Surrey CC to get on with identifying a site and building the school. We’ve also tried to help by suggesting possible sites.

      It hasn’t been easy – we’ve been fobbed off with all sorts of conflicting nonsense by officers and members at both Surrey and Reigate & Banstead councils.

      You say the current Lime Tree site is too small – so is the Battlebridge Lane site. And as for delays, we’ve been urging Surrey to look at land they already own. Even if the current planning application is approved they would have to purchase the Battlebridge Lane site, which is by no means assured, meaning further delays.

      We haven’t caused any delays. The latest delay was caused by Surrey’s own transport experts who, rightly and properly, need assurances that the traffic and safety problems are actually being addressed. This was a concern to all councillors at Reigate & Banstead, and Conservative cllrs promoted this reason for objection.

      We’ll continue to campaign for all the issues to be quickly addressed and against the delays. I’d be very happy to discuss this with you if you’d like that.

      Sarah

      • Kate Ma
        Posted Saturday, 7 December 2013 at 11:32 pm | Permalink

        Hi Sarah

        Thank you for responding.

        I disagree that the Battlebridge site is too small. If you discount the field, it is larger than Wray Common and St Joseph’s, the only other two-form entry all-through primary schools I am aware of in the area. Alexander Road is only too small because we run out of class rooms; the site itself is big enough.

        I find the attitude of criticism and then gloating about de-railing the process especially galling, particularly as you have not suggested any sensible alternative which better meets all of your objectives, nor offered any constructive ways of improving the current plans.

        The parents and, frankly, brilliant staff at Lime Tree (along with the GLF) are working extremely hard together to build a fantastic school. I am certain we could do this if only the two councils would hurry up and stop the unproductive in-fighting and point-scoring and let us get on with it. It distresses me to read about how glad you are to have helped prevent our progress.

        On the matter of the site itself, I think the opponents need to decide – is it an idyllic site that should be preserved for the 8 skateboarders and 9 dog-walkers who use it – or a hideous, polluted pit that is unsafe for children. Both of these can’t be true.

        More than happy to discuss my views further if you would like to get in touch directly. I think you have my email address from these posts?

        • Councillor Sarah Finch
          Posted Thursday, 12 December 2013 at 10:14 am | Permalink

          Hi Kate

          Thanks for your reply.

          I am sorry if anything in my post came over as gloating. What I’d tried to express was a mixture of relief and disappointment. Relief that after two years of campaigning on this, at least some of the problems with the Battlebridge site are finally being taken seriously. And disappointment that my objection was not supported.

          I don’t know what you mean by ‘discounting the field’ but this site is less than half the size of Wray Common and St Matthew’s (I don’t know St Joseph’s).

          We (along with residents) certainly have suggested other sites. Four of the sites on the list were ones we had suggested and two of those came out very well in the ranking exercise.

          This site is neither idyllic, nor is it a ‘hideous, polluted pit’ (and you may have seen I dismissed the contamination issue as a reason for not using this site). But it is (a) in Green Belt and (b) not a good site for a primary school, for all the reasons mentioned in the above (and previous) blog post.

          I’m glad to hear that the Lime Tree School is developing well. I agree that finding a permanent site for it is extremely urgent – I’ve been asking for one for two years. But you must surely agree that finding the right site is important. This is what we have been campaigning for, and finally, after pressure from many residents, some of our Conservative colleagues have accepted it as well.

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