Saturday, 24 July 2021

Concern over school build on playing field

RESIDENTS of Benson are concerned about the expansion of the village primary school by building on its playing field.

The three-classroom building is due to be built on part of the field adjacent to the car park and will have a hard play area. A second identical building could follow.

Work is set to start in December with the aim of having the building ready for the start of the school year in September 2019.

The school needs to expand to meet demand that will be created by hundreds of new homes being built.

But residents, who had their first chance to look at the plans this month, claim alternatives are available and are concerned about the loss of open space.

John Phillingham, of Pensfield, raised the issue at a meeting of Benson Parish Council last week.

He said: “The school field, although owned by the Church of England, has been a public amenity for decades and must remain available as such. That Benson school requires to physically expand to accommodate the increase is not an issue. It is the method of expansion that is a very big issue.

“In what can only be described as an act of betrayal of their own remit, the Benson Church of England Voluntary School Trust is colluding with the local authority to allow the building of a classroom block on the school playing field, the area of which will be so diminished that a football pitch or running track will no longer be options.

“Also, the plans allow for the future possibility of a second identical structure, further encroaching onto the field.”

Mr Phillingham suggested alternatives including the compulsory purchase of the derelict Keable house in Littleworth Road which he said was a “perennial eyesore”.

He suggested annexing the garden to build on and selling the remaining land for redevelopment or to build a caretaker’s home.

He also suggested remodelling the old caretaker’s house adjoining the school for educational use or building upwards on the existing school footprint.

Resident Peter Clarke said he was concerned about the “complete despoliation” of a “super” playing field.

He said the old Keable building site could probably accommodate both new buildings and another option was to use the bottom of the playing field from where the village youth hall was due to be relocated.

“Rather than spoil a perfectly good playing field an alternative is on the doorstep,” he said.

Council chairman Bill Pattison said the playing field was created by public subscription and he wanted to see the original trust document relating to the conveyancing of the deeds.

He said the school had expanded once already using part of the field and now wished to do the same again, adding: “It would greatly diminish what is already a diminished field.”

Councillor Mark Gray, Benson’s representative on Oxfordshire County Council, the education authority, said: “I have spoken to a number of parents and we’re trying to get a meeting together about what the proposals are and what they want to say.

“A round table discussion would be a sensible idea to see where we can get to.”

He said he would speak to the Rt Rev Colin Fletcher, the Bishop of Dorchester.

Headteacher Helen Crolla, the school governors and members of the trust have been discussing the plans with their project manager for months.

Mrs Crolla has reassured villagers that the school will still have use of a good-sized playing field following its expansion.

Cala Homes, which has planning permission to build 241 homes on land north of Littleworth Road, has said it will provide a sports field as part of that development.

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