Surrey County Council yesterday gave planning permission to the new primary school proposed for Battlebridge Lane in north Redhill.
The proposal has been highly controversial, largely because of the lack of transparency over how the site was selected and the Councils’ extraordinary failure to communicate openly with local councillors and residents.
Last November, the Reigate & Banstead planning committee voted to object to the proposal because of the impacts it would have on traffic conditions and road safety in the area. Yesterday it was Surrey County Council’s turn – they are the decision-making authority for school developments.
Resident Mr Richard Mills and I both addressed the Committee. We only had three minutes each so weren’t able to discuss all our concerns.
I spoke mostly of my concerns about how the assessment of potential sites had been conducted. The site has obvious drawbacks – it’s too small, surrounded by busy roads, and it’s on Green Belt – so we need to be sure that the site selection process was robust. Yet the ranking system was crude and criteria inconsistently applied, leading to a result noone can be confident in. Not surprising, since the site had been chosen long before the assessment was conducted, putting pressure on the agents to come up with the ‘right’ answer.
Mr Mills talked about vehicle access to the school which is via the cul-de-sac Battlebridge Lane. The planning documents forecast 166 cars with pupils and 28 cars for staff arriving between 8.30 and 8.50. This means nine cars a minute turning into Battlebridge Lane while eight a minute are trying to turn out, 44% turning right. Mr Mills said, “On top of existing rush hour traffic congestion it won’t work… It will be a Venus Fly Trap of a cul-de-sac.”
The committee debated all these issues and more. They acknowledged the serious concerns about traffic impacts, the inadequacy of parking and drop-off and pick-up facilities, and the walking and cycling routes to the school.
All who spoke acknowledged that the school would create traffic chaos. The expectation that only a third of children would arrive by car was felt to be optimistic, and the fact that only 29 parking spaces are provided for the 77 staff as well as suppliers and visitors was thought to be inadequate.
Concerns were also expressed about the effects of noise on the children – this is a noisy site as it’s right next to the busy A23. The building has been designed to minimise noise inside yet while it offers some screening for the outdoor space, the noise and air pollution will make for a far from ideal outdoor environment.
Following objections raised by councillors and residents, Surrey’s Highways team have done more work on the plans and a number of new conditions were tabled yesterday, including improved pedestrian crossings at the A23/New Battlebridge Lane, A23/Rocky Lane and Frenches Road/Battlebridge Lane junctions and on the Trowers Way roundabout.
Cllr Essex requested three more conditions – for the skate park to be relocated in the recreation ground before work starts, for a safe cycle route on Ormside Way, and for the Highways team to investigate and if possible implement measures to reduce traffic speed to 20mph along New Battlebridge Lane and Ormside Way. These were agreed by the committee.
A lot more work is needed to find an acceptable balance between congestion and pedestrian convenience and the work can’t start until the various improvements have been submitted and approved.
We will continue to argue for the best possible traffic calming and safety measures to safeguard children, parents and staff at the school and to encourage as many as possible to travel by foot, bike or bus.
The staff and families of Lime Tree School will do their very best to make the best of this far-from-ideal school site and if there is any way we can help, we will do so. We are just sorry that there was never an open discussion to identify the best possible site for the best possible school that local families and teachers deserve.