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Thursday, 23 November 2017
A WOMAN has complained that children can see into her home after the school next door installed a new £22,500 play area.
Janine Lewis, of Norman Avenue, Henley, also claims that the noise from the pupils has increased after a tree that screened her back garden from the play area at Trinity Primary School was felled.
Miss Lewis, who works from home up to four days a week, was not consulted by the school about the play equipment being replaced.
The school has apologised for not consulting her but says it had to remove the tree for safety reasons and it has put up a screen on the climbing frame to prevent overlooking.
The new equipment was installed at the school in Vicarage Road in August during the summer holidays.
Miss Lewis, who runs her own investment firm, contacted headteacher Helen Jones after noticing this, saying she was anxious about losing her privacy.
She said: “It is very difficult for me as I love children in small doses and I knew I was next to a school.
“The original layout had a tree on the border. I asked the council to chop a bit off the tree that was overhanging my garden and they said they were dealing with it.
“The next thing I know they were chopping it down. I loved that beautiful tree as it meant the school wasn’t hampering my life. Then I realised that something weird was happening, so I looked through the fence and I could see this thing.
“I went to see Helen Jones and she was really lovely. I told her that I wanted to be a good neighbour but this was really thoughtless.” Mrs Jones promised not to allow the children to use the equipment until the issue had been resolved.
In an email to Miss Lewis sent on September 1, she said: “I am so sorry. In replacing our climbing frames I had no idea that this would cause any issues for our neighbours.
“I will indeed look into this and children will not be allowed to play on the new equipment until I am happy that we have found a way forward and that there is not an invasion of your privacy. School starts officially next week and I will be meeting with my governors and sharing your concerns.”
Miss Lewis had heard no more when a few weeks later the children began using the play area.
She said: “If they [children] sit on the top they can see straight into my home. After having complete privacy they can now look straight in.”
She said the tree used to absorb the noise from the children in the playground at break times, adding: “I had complete solitude and now the noise is so in your face it is excruciating.”
Miss Lewis complained to town councillor David Nimmo Smith and sent him video footage of the children playing on the equipment.
Cllr Nimmo Smith forwarded the email to Mrs Jones and asked if the noise levels in the playground had increased. Mrs Jones replied: “The school is no more noisy than it would be normally be for a school with children at play.
“We do not have an increase in numbers. In fact, we have fewer children than in the summer on the lower playground so it should be quieter than previously.
“The children only stepped on to the climbing frame for the first time last week and this was in small groups. It is controlled and there is a rota. Today, when I watched, the children were very sensible and used the apparatus in the way it was meant.”
Cllr Nimmo Smith shared this response with Miss Lewis who then replied to Mrs Jones. She said the video showed the children “going back and forth in clear line of view of my home, my study in fact, as I work”.
Miss Lewis continued: “The video also shows the crazy sound levels that I now have to contend with that were not there, at this level, before. Your clear lack of interest in the change your school’s leisure activities have presented to my life is very upsetting.
“You mention here that the sound levels can’t have changed as your numbers of children are consistent, if not lower, and yet you fail to see how removing a tree that buffered the sound of the yard (and provided privacy) and then replacing it with an attraction right alongside my fence line might have an effect. You are clearly trying to put your head in the sand and hope I will go away. At the very least find out how much it would cost to move it. I will find out the cost of putting up a 10ft fence and, whichever is the cheaper, then that is what should be done.
“Do the right thing please and just get a quote for the work and share it with me and let’s see if we can salvage this. I will even help them move it!”
Mrs Jones told the Henley Standard that it was “quite difficult” to respond as Miss Lewis had a different perception from the chool.
She said: “From the school’s point of view, it was a huge oversight and omission that we didn’t consult as it didn’t occur to us that we needed to and I apologise for that.
“I invited her into the school to talk about what we could do. One of the things we agreed to do was put up a screen at the highest point, which wasn’t on the original climbing frame, so she couldn’t see the children.
“We have done that and we didn’t allow the children on the climbing frame until that screen was in place.
“The other thing we shared with her was about planting along the fencing of new trees, shrubs and bushes. She understood that this would take time and seemed to be happy that was proceeding.”
Kellie Hinton, a town councillor who advises the school, said: “The fence had been damaged by the tree and needed to be repaired for safety and security reasons.
“The tree itself was an overgrown weed — it had a single base with two trunks coming out and was about 1m from the climbing frame.”
The new equipment includes wooden climbing frames and ropes, monkey bars, climbing tyres and low level nets as well as a soft rubber floor that is supposed to mimic the River Thames.
It was paid for thanks to the fund-raising efforts of the school’s Friends group and sponsorship from estate agent David Tate.
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