Haymeads Residents' Association's Objections to Proposed Schools' Move  Map 

Letter to Development Control, East Herts District Council


Head of Development Control
East Herts Council
Wallfields
Pegs Lane
Hertford
SG13 8EQ
c/o 59 Haymeads Lane
Bishop’s Stortford
CM23 5JJ
18 September 2008

Dear Sirs

Planning Applications: 3/08/1101, 3/08/1102, 3/08/1103, 3/08/1115, 3/08/1116, 3/08/1117

The Haymeads Residents’ Association covers an area from The Wraglings to Beldams Gate, Linkside Road and all avenues off, Haymeads Lane, Haycroft, Cavell Court and Nightingales.

We wish to object formally to the planning applications to move two Bishop‘s Stortford Schools to a new site off Whittington Way and to build residential dwellings on their vacated sites. We also object to the application to build houses on a site off Hadham Road which has been earmarked for a new school for many years.

Location of the Proposed Schools Site

The proposed schools site off Whittington Way is in the Green Belt. We do not feel the exceptional circumstances necessary to sacrifice Green Belt are evident in this case. An alternative location has been reserved for this very purpose for decades but has now been deemed unsuitable. This owes more to the desire to fund the project by selling land to a housing developer than to the character of the plot, which would accommodate a new school of 6 forms of entry, enough to satisfy the shortfall of places when added to the expansion already planned for Birchwood School. Moreover, the shortfall could be satisfied far sooner than under these proposals.

This new school could be another community school, rather than concentrating additional capacity in foundation schools which have powers to set their own admissions criteria and already accept 20% of pupils from outside our area. Indeed, The Bishop’s Stortford Boys’ High School website declares almost half its pupils travel 5 miles or more to attend. These admissions policies must be exacerbating the shortage of capacity and one way to address the shortfall might be to tackle them.

A new community school located off Hadham Road would be ideally placed to serve new housing planned for the ASR nearby, thus reducing car journeys and congestion elsewhere in the town. This site should not be sold off under any circumstances when development of the ASR is contemplated. Schools would be spread around the town, preventing traffic mayhem in one area and dispersing the school run so reducing pressure on the whole local road network. This site is on a major bus route and the ring road is close by. It would be ideal in serving the only area of the town currently without secondary school provision.

In any event, it is unclear whether the new capacity generated under these proposals would be wiped out by the influx of residents to the new housing. If the only other available site has been sold off, where would any future education capacity be provided?

Concentrating the school run in one area of the town would cause enormous congestion in an already congested area. The proposal to bus in pupils who would previously have walked to school will add huge numbers of coaches into that equation. The roads around the Whittington Way site would most likely become totally overwhelmed when 3000+ people attempt to leave the area at once. Pupils who currently travel by train would be forced to find alternative modes of transport.

The site at Whittington Way is directly below the revised flight path announced by NATS. This would put a substantial proportion of our schoolchildren directly into a situation which could have a detrimental effect on education, potentially limiting their prospects. This would become more acute as the Airport expands.

Education

Research suggests the optimum size for schools is 800-1000 pupils. Despite both schools’ assertions, there is a real risk the two schools will merge to become one. The sharing of facilities from the outset is a warning sign. It has been said such massive schools are unworkable and evidence suggests teachers spend more time on discipline and have far less chance of truly knowing their pupils. Indeed, in America, following such research, school sizes are now being reduced.

For those who want single-sex education for their children, the risk the schools would ultimately merge would remove that choice. For those who want their child to go to an optimum-sized school, there is already precious little choice.

Local Plan

The proposals rely on building almost 800 new homes to finance the project. These are not included in the Local Plan so infrastructure has not been planned to accommodate them. The additional houses will generate further demand for secondary school places, which will exacerbate the problem. There is no mention of extra capacity in primary school or pre-school places yet demand would undoubtedly increase.

With particular reference to application 3/08/1101 - Herts & Essex Playing Field, Beldams Lane

Traffic

The redevelopment of the Herts and Essex Hospital and the associated housing development (about 280 dwellings) failed to address the traffic congestion concerns of local residents and has already had a significant and adverse impact on the surrounding roads, specifically the unacceptably high congestion at the junction of Haymeads Lane and Dunmow Road. The proposed development off Beldams Lane will further increase the burden on local roads. The assessment shows little evidence of congestion issues being understood or the appropriate level of due diligence undertaken by the Highways Authority. This is demonstrated by the failure to suggest traffic calming measures or junction improvements. Indeed, the assessment concludes traffic may be reduced by the removal of the Herts & Essex School, which further demonstrates the complete lack of understanding of traffic flows within Bishop’s Stortford and particularly this area. Any suggestion that the site will have no impact on the Nags Head or Hallingbury Road junctions is not borne out in reality - traffic queues at the Nags Head have doubled in length since the hospital development. Even if, as stated, these are caused by other developments around the town, it does not make sense to add more vehicles into the equation whilst the junction remains unaltered. Since the Highways Authority seems unable to deliver improvements at the Nags Head Junction, there is a real danger of gridlock if more traffic is introduced.

Travel Plan

Although the developers seek to rely on a Travel Plan, no new cycle paths are envisaged and no access given directly from the site to the only existing cycle path alongside Footpath J2. The Travel Plan is unworkable and superficial and cannot be relied upon to improve congestion.

No access is proposed directly from the site to Footpath J2. The longer walk to Thorn Grove School, the station or even the town means residents are more likely to use cars.

Many young children already walk to local primary and secondary schools. The journey is hazardous and, for those crossing at the Nags Head Junction without a pedestrian island or formal crossing, it is dangerous. Moreover, large vehicles such as lorries and buses need to mount the pavement when turning into Haymeads Lane because there is so little space. Failing to address these safety issues, whilst allowing traffic to increase, is both irresponsible and unacceptable. This junction is an accident waiting to happen.

Design

The outline plans show a high proportion of three storey housing. The Planning Department has previously refused applications which were deemed “out of character with the surrounding area” or too intrusive into the skyline. The properties on the east side of the site would be dwarfed by such properties. We believe the proposal conflicts with planning legislation and is contrary to policies BE2 and BE5 of the adopted East Herts Local Plan.

The location of affordable housing and associated car parking will have maximum impact on existing properties. With no break in the building line, natural light will be completely blocked. Noise from car parking will be intrusive to neighbouring properties. Some existing properties will even look directly onto brick walls.

The density of housing proposed is far higher than the average density of the surrounding area at 35 per hectare. The majority of neighbouring houses are 3 or 4 bedroom semi-detached or detached properties. Flats have only recently come into the mix with the conversion of the listed blocks of the former workhouse and the affordable housing facing onto Haymeads Lane. These are some of the ugliest buildings in Bishop’s Stortford: they are neither in keeping with the surrounding area, being unnecessarily urban in style, nor attractive. We are not prepared to contemplate any further such desecration of the appearance of our neighbourhood.

Drainage

The field is currently criss-crossed by a network of irrigation ditches which were installed during the last 40 years as the field was prone to waterlog. It is feared that this and local drainage generally has not been properly investigated. We have been told that development of the hospital site contributed to raising the water table in the area and there are several recurring drainage issues, notably on Dunmow Road and at the Parsonage Lane roundabout. Drainage in Haymeads Lane was not upgraded at the time of the hospital development and may not cope with an additional burden.

Archaeology

Initial surveys seem to suggest that as the field has never been developed, information of archaeological interest could well be lost if the site is not properly investigated.

Facilities

In further expanding housing by close to 500 homes across the Warwick Road and Beldams Lane sites, scant consideration has been shown to improving public transport, amenities for the young, impact on local primary schools and the capacities of doctors’ surgeries and dentist facilities. Again, the developers’ assertion that increased surgery capacity is not necessary is not borne out in reality when patients already struggle to get suitable appointments.

There is no mention of increased primary school provision for new residents, nor new pre-school facilities. Moreover, the Blues Nursery sited at the Boys’ High School would be removed with no mention of a replacement. In recent years, both Saplings and Childways Nurseries, which were within walking distance, have been driven out by other developments. The creche promised for the Hospital development did not materialise, unsurprisingly, and the site has now been developed as yet more flats.

There is no provision of children’s play equipment due to supposed proximity of those at Dimsdale Crescent and Cavell Drive, yet no access to Footpath J2 means a longer walk by main roads.

Rightly or wrongly, the playing field at Beldams Lane is currently well-used by local people. Those new residents of the hospital development whose gardens are tiny or non-existent have also welcomed the outdoor space. The area has been used for many years for jogging, sports, dog-walking, sunbathing, kite-flying and picnicking. The small social area planned is not nearly sufficient to replace what will be lost to the local community. The whole field should be considered as lost community leisure space when developers’ contributions to replacement facilities are calculated.

Herts & Essex School provides a swimming pool which is much-used by local children for swimming lessons. This is within walking distance of many pupils, who will all have to be driven to any new pool at Whittington Way. Concentrating all such facilities in that area will add to the congestion. Herts & Essex pool is not open for general public swimming so there is no competition for availability: there is no guarantee swimming clubs can all be accommodated at the new pool given its only slightly increased size.

The developers seek to offset their contribution for lost sport/leisure facilities by offering the public access to new facilities at Whittington Way. These will be controlled by a Trust and it is not for developers to assume public access will be sufficient to offset their contribution.

Ownership

Many residents of long-standing are familiar with the history of ownership of the field off Beldams Lane which was given to the Herts & Essex School on condition it was never built on. It is a matter of grave concern that the School now seeks to renege on that generosity in this way.

Conclusion

The proposal does not seem to provide the answer to the undeniable shortfall of school places in a way that benefits the town generally. It appears to have the potential to cause far more problems than it solves. There are ways to address the shortfall in school places which do not involve selling off huge tracts of land for development with all the additional problems that generates. The project will be detrimental to Bishop’s Stortford and should be scrapped.

Yours faithfully

J Wade
Haymeads Residents’ Association