OTTRA's Objections to Proposed Schools' Move  Map 

Letter to Development Control, East Herts District Council


Kevin Steptoe
Head of Planning and Building Control
East Herts District Council
Wallfields
Pegs Lane
Hertford
SG13 8EQ
16 September 2008

Planning Applications Refs: 3/08/1101/OP, 3/08/1102/OP, 3/08/1103/OP, 3/08/1115/OP, 3/08/1116/OP, 3/08/1117/OP - for the Building of Two Secondary Schools in Thorley on a Green Belt site at Whittington Way; Demolition of existing School Buildings and Housing Development of the vacated sites at Warwick Road, Beldams Lane and London Road; and Residential Development of the School Reserve site at Patmore Close, Hadham Road.

Dear Mr Steptoe

As chairman, I write this letter of strong objection on behalf of the Committee of Old Thorley and Twyford Park Residents' Association (OTTRA), which represents a large majority of the 500 families living in Bishop's Avenue and its neighbouring roads, in Thorley Street, and in that part of Thorley Lane leading from the London Road to Whittington Way roundabout. All the residents without exception are directly and adversely affected by one or more aspects of this proposal to create in green belt a huge school complex comprising two juxtaposed secondary schools, each with expectation of attaining 8FE capacity in year 2021, and covering an extensive area for shared sport and recreation.

We question the applicants' claim that this proposed move to a specified greenbelt site is the only possible way forward to make good the existing town shortfall in available school places and provide for our local children the educational benefits allegedly needed for the 21st century, and we seek with others to demonstrate that the justification based on "very special circumstances" for going ahead with the proposal is not strong enough an educational argument to override the harm that will be suffered as a result. In support we cite the following extract from the Adopted Local Plan Second Review.

Policy GBC1 states: "Within the Metropolitan Green Belt, as defined on the Proposals Map, permission will not be given for inappropriate development unless very special circumstances can be demonstrated that clearly outweigh the harm by reason of inappropriateness or any other harm".

The four main areas of concern for Thorley and Twyford Park residents are

I address here only the traffic and environmental issues, since the points we would wish to make on green belt development and educational need have already been comprehensively set out in the letters of objection that you have received from the Bishop's Stortford Civic Federation, from the Hertfordshire Society branch of the Campaign to Protect Rural England, and from Thorley parish council. I strongly recommend that you read, in conjunction with this letter, the letter of objection sent to you by a member of our Committee, Mr B J N Adams, since he addresses in detail specific points made in the applicants' Supporting Planning Statement that refer to these four main topics of concern.

OTTRA firmly supports the arguments made in all of the above mentioned submissions, and wishes to register with the Planning Department its request to be allowed to address the Development Control Committee, on the 16th October, on these four matters as they relate to their impact on OTTRA residents. If members cannot be assured that their Association representative will have opportunity to speak for them, quite a number will individually be writing in to register their requests to speak.

Traffic

Change in modes of transport.

Due to the large catchment area of the schools, and the Herts & Essex School commitment to continue taking pupils from both counties, there will be significant travelling by students required. The traffic report, unhelpfully, failed to ask how students would travel to the schools in their new location. It would seem clear that pupils would use different modes of transport to a school that is on the outskirts of a town from one that is more centrally located. As there are few bus routes, and the distance from the station to the new schools would be significantly increased for many of the students, it would seem likely there will be a significant shift to using cars.

Pig Lane used as an unofficial southern bypass.

This route is popularly used to get to the M11 or Stansted via Beldams Lane and the Dunmow Road for two reasons: it is faster and it allows drivers to avoid both the notoriously congested crossroads at Hockerhill traffic lights and the significantly longer route around the bypass. It would seem sensible to assume that a significant proportion of the traffic leaving the proposed school campus would opt to use this short-cut, and in order to do so, would have to turn right across London Road and across the flow of traffic. The traffic report failed to take into account the popularity of this short-cut and as a consequence has not highlighted the major traffic congestion at road junctions on this route that will follow. It also failed to take into account the effect on the local residents who live in Pig Lane as it winds sharply around Twyford Lock, narrows to a single lane at various points along its route, becomes a weight restricted single lane bridge over the railway line, and is without pedestrian footpaths. Moreover, no recognition was given to the likelihood of the Herts & Essex Girls' school traffic using this popular short-cut to join the London Road school traffic from town, thereby adding to the congestion and exacerbating the difficulties already experienced by Proctor's Way residents trying to get out of Pig Lane onto the London Road.

Thorley Street congestion

School traffic approaching or leaving the schools' parking areas in Whittington Way via London Road will impact badly on all users and residents of Thorley Street, already notorious for its accident record and daily traffic congestion at peak times. School traffic coming from Sawbridgeworth and Harlow to the Boys High in London Road already uses Thorley Street, and will continue to do so after the school's move, but Thorley Street will need to be able to take the extra school traffic approaching Whittington Way via the bypass but continuing down to Thorley Wash to avoid driving down the unsuitable slip road known as Obrey Way. Furthermore, the extra traffic generated by housing development on the London Road vacated school site will also add significantly to the traffic load on Thorley Street and the danger to residents, young and old, already fearful when trying to cross the road to post a letter or go to a bus stop. The traffic report does not recognise this scenario and offers no viable solution to the Thorley Street and London Road problems.

Whittington Way queuing.

At peak times, and as a result of congestion in the London Road, traffic is already frequently queued up along this section of Whittington Way, hindering traffic flow in and out of Thorley Park (an estate of 2,500 houses) where residents and shoppers have only one access and exit route in a southerly direction which is onto the Whittington Way roundabout. In the traffic survey commissioned by the applicants only one single observation relating to traffic appears, in paragraph 7.29, where it is written that a queue of over 40 cars had been measured in Whittington Way. The report notes this was in part due to congestion of London Road. It is clear to residents that the proposed residential estate to be built on the vacated Boys High school premises in London Road will only increase this congestion and that the proposed school campus will increase the queuing on Whittington Way. The report fails, however, to propose any remedies other than minor changes to the traffic lights timing intervals. If London Road is already operating at capacity there can be no easy solution.

Student Drop-off and Pick-up

The traffic volume at school drop off and pick up times will affect all users of Whittington Way, which encompasses all Twyford Park residents, since the only vehicular exit from the estate is onto Whittington Way at Bishop's Avenue. The traffic report failed to take into account the increased waiting time required to pick up students from the schools. By modelling only the student drop-off, and not looking at the school pick-up time, the survey failed to model one of the worst problems of traffic in our area. Parents will have to wait in their cars on the local roads. No amount of “Residents only” parking or “Double yellow lines” will solve the problem, as parents tend, it is found elsewhere in town, to park illegally outside schools and simply wait to be moved on. Currently parents, waiting for students from the Boys High School, are obliged to park on local roads on the Twyford Gardens side of the estate, often across driveways and literally blocking access to homes and causing chaos for local residents. Again, no viable solution is being offered to address the same problem that will occur in Thorley Lane (which is stopped up at both ends of Whittington Way) if the application for the schools' move is granted.

School Bus Routes.

Whittington Way is not a major road, and is not suitable for a large number of buses and coaches. The presence of the forty or so school coaches, needed for the transporting of children to and from a campus with a 3,000 pupil capacity, will be a severely intrusive occurrence twice daily along the length of Whittington Way and the Obrey Way approach road, causing delays and mayhem at the new Bishop's Avenue and Pynchbek roundabouts which are planned to allow separate access into the two schools. The whole area will be fraught with danger and discourage parents from allowing their children to walk or cycle as intended by the applicants and highways authorities.

Environment

The environmental issues raised by the proposals to build on Thorley green belt cover many concerns ranging from loss of amenity and sense of well-being for those who love the openness of the countyside, damage to natural visual beauty and a nurtured Right of Way, disappearance of the night sky as we know it, disturbance of landscape topography and sensitive water and drainage flows in a vulnerable area adjacent to a flood plain, and unacceptable levels of light and noise pollution through to complete transformation of the area from rural to urban, introduction of an alien 'blot on the landscape' dominating its surroundings on all sides from the highest part of the valley plateau, and destruction of a thriving and energetic rural community spirit.

Environmental issues are relevant to all the applications, and the general points made in respect to these in the objection letters you have received from other parties have our support. The OTTRA committee also fully supports the letters of objection from members of the Association individually giving more detail about these concerns. Some of the worst instances of harmful impact consequent upon this inappropriate development of green belt would be the following:

All this is too high a price for too many people to pay for what is little more than ambitious visionary thinking, of questionable and unproven merit, by a small band of 'worthies' in the field of education. The depth of town feeling about the deleterious impact of these proposals is telling and clear from the 3,000 petition signatures collected in opposition to the applications submitted by the two schools' governing boards and Countryside Properties developers.

Other options must seriously be considered to provide the required number of school places needed, if indeed it is still true that this need remains the same valid and urgent requirement that it was when the schools' relocation was first mooted, we are told by Mark Prisk MP, some four years ago. Up to date analysis of the situation should be requested by the authorities. OTTRA committee's understanding is that there is currently believed to be an excess of secondary school places in Bishop's Stortford, and that admissions figures for this autumn are being analysed.

Exceptional circumstances overriding considerations of harm

The benefits deriving from the proposed green belt development, as presented by county officers, school governors and developers, are:

(i) an increase in single sex school places for take-up by children in the town catchment areas. This by inference suggests an end to 'bussing' out of town, assumes a belief (untested) that most parents prefer single sex schools, and offers an assurance (false) that parental choices for a good school near to home will be met.

(ii) wide-ranging all-round education until 2021 and beyond, provided to the highest standards befitting 21st century needs, and delivered in the type of top quality school buildings that are deemed by the schools' governors as essential for the achievement of those high standards. This by inference suggests that other good schools in town will not be able to compete in inferior buildings.

(iii) shared use of school sports and recreation facilities for paying members of the public. This wrongly implies that the public does not already have use of school and public facilities and that provision of such would be a welcome added value.

(iv) provision of the town's urgently needed additional school places as early as 2011. This implies that the one extra FE in place in each school by that date (in total 60 children) adequately meets today's urgent requirement.

Upon examination, the OTTRA committee sees these benefits as "make believe". It is inconceivable that autonomous foundation schools would ignore any changing 'business' demands that confronted them between now and 2021. Such demands (possibly driven by lack of money in economically challenging times) could at any time affect operation of schools' admissions policies, teacher recruitment, choice of curriculum, even continuation of single sex class teaching. Compromises would have to be made which might mean policy changes or lowering of educational achievement. Dissatisfied parents would have no recourse to county authorities in such circumstances.

With regard to (ii) above, how can anyone predict what the demographic picture or 21st century cultural needs will be for the town in 13 years' time? And why cannot these two particular schools renovate their existing buildings to the required quality, especially when, as the plans show, there is insignificant difference between the floor space measurements of the old and the new school buildings, and construction of the new school buildings to a height of 2 and 3 storeys is being envisaged.

With reference to (iv) above, the building of a community sixth form college from scratch on the council owned reserve site at Hadham Road would be an opportunity to design and plan properly for 21st century needs, rather than hurry through an expensive, complex and shared project on [as yet unpurchased] farmland just to meet a 2011 timescale, which in any case is too late to meet the town's present urgent need for school places.

Given the uncertainties about the realisation or value to the community of the so-called benefits deriving from the schools' move to Whittington Way, and given the applicants' insistence that the proposals are education-led, it is deplorable that proper assessments of, and comparisons with, the other possible options have not been made.

It is not clear how much delay and disruption there would be before any of the envisaged benefits could be realised. Surely too the applicants should provide information about the position of primary and pre-nursery schools, which are also over-subscribed. In these schools are the children whose parents will be experiencing the first phase of change if the applications are granted, and they are therefore a party that should be included in the whole picture of education provision and monitoring across the town. Yet they are ignored.

From the discussion above it should be seen that the question can reasonably be asked as to whether or not the benefits of the proposal are significant o sustainable enough educationally to justify causing disruption and ievocable harm to the entire community of Old Thorley and Twyford Park as well as to the town as a whole.

For very many people the answer to that specific question is: 'No, the benefits are neither significant enough nor certain enough, and they can - in whole or in part - be achieved by other solutions that would not erode the true purpose of green belt'. The harm done will be enormous and irreversible in that:

a. hundreds of unwanted windfall houses and flats will bring extra pressures on traffic flow, shops, services, doctors, primary schools, environment

b. countryside for continued enjoyment, wellbeing and wildlife into the future will be lost for our children, and

c. even more agricultural land between the relocated schools and the bypass will be opened up to further development and coalescence.

Conclusion

In brief, OTTRA is totally opposed to the application 3/08/1117/OP on grounds that relocation of the two schools to a shared site at Whittington Way is inappropriate development of green belt, and that the harm done in terms of environment, well-being, and sustainability, is on a large scale and irreversible.

Further, OTTRA is totally opposed to applications 3/08/1101/OP, 1102/OP, 1103/OP, 1115/OP and 1116/OP on grounds that windfall housing development in town is over intensive and will add significantly to the traffic flow chaos and the already urgent need for more school places.

Finally, OTTRA does not believe that a case for "very exceptional educational circumstances" has been made to justify green belt development at the proposed site. These applications must be refused.

Yours sincerely,

Chairman
Secretary
Members
Signed on behalf of committee members:
Sylvia McDonald, Carol Hayward-Peel, Ann Lowe, Jill Cook, Mary Wilson, Barry Adams, Eve Whale, Clare Ferrar, Jackie Eaton, Sarah-Jane Pyne, Matt Pyne, Christine Ross.