Saturday, 19 June 2021

Councillors oppose school extension on playing field

BENSON Primary School’s plans to expand by building on part of its playing field are being opposed by the village’s representatives on the education and planning authorities.

The school in Oxford Road says it needs three more classrooms in order to meet the extra demand for places caused by hundreds of new homes being built.

The new building and a hard play area would take up a quarter of the playing field.

But Mark Gray, who sits on Oxfordshire County Council, and Sue Cooper, a member of South Oxfordshire District Council, say the field must be saved and the county council, the education authority, should come up with another solution.

The pair have produced a leaflet which has been delivered to every home in the village.

The leaflet says: “To cater for the increasing numbers of pupils from the new houses being built in Benson, more school places are needed. This will mean building on our much-valued youth field.

“The field was bought by public subscription. It has been used by many, many children over many years — scouts, guides, the Benson Area Play Scheme, playgroups, pre-school, young footballers and other youngsters, not just the children at the school. Many of us have already expressed concern about the loss of the field. It is not the first time that chunks of the field have been taken over by the county council and built on.

“Increasing the number of children in the school while decreasing the available play space seems frankly absurd. It is recognised already that Benson is short of green space.”

The councillors say that plans by the school to use a new playing field at the Cala Homes development, off Littleworth Road, is only a partial solution.

The leaflet says: “It is difficult to see how the school will be able to staff groups of children walking back and forth.

“In any case there do not seem to be any plans to increase the size of the school hall. Isn’t it time to say ‘enough is enough’ on the current school site?

“We call upon Oxfordshire County Council to think again about this plan.”

Councillor Cooper said she favoured leaving the existing school as it was and building a new one at the Meer, a green space which is half-owned by the county council but was earmarked in the Benson neighbourhood plan as an additional area for social housing if needed.

Speaking at last week’s Benson Parish Council meeting, she said: “I’ve added up all the houses and it actually comes to 781 that we have got permission for at the moment.

“The chances are it will be 800 and, according to the county’s own figures, that generates 200 more children.

“That gives us a feel for how much extra we’re trying to crowd on to this already crowded site.

“Having a site at the Meer would serve the north-eastern stretch of new housing plus the Blacklands Road area.

“I think if we got these two schools, in theory everyone should be able to walk to school.

“The county doesn’t like another school because they don’t like the overheads of running a separate one but there are 200 more children coming.”

Cllr Gray told the meeting: “We want people to understand why this is happening. There will be a consultation process which starts very soon. That will include various public meetings and the opportunity to comment on what the county council and school are proposing.

“I think some parents want the school to be bigger and for their children to able to go to school. There’s a possibility if the extension isn’t expedited that the school may not be able to fulfil the needs of families in the village.

“There must be a bit of time for some breathing space to look at this. Just giving it another year there would be a much more comfortable position if people felt they had been truly listened to.”

Parish councillor Michael Winton said: “Most of these parents are only here for a short time and the rest of us have got to live it with it forever.”

Councillor Teresa McTeague added: “There seems to be a very unhealthy rush to get this done without due consideration to all parties concerned. I don’t understand why it has to be done at a gallop.”

Parish council chairman Bill Pattison said members needed time to consider the issue further.

The school says the new classroom block is needed by September 2019 and that another three classrooms may be needed by 2024.

Headteacher Helen Crolla has said the new building would not have a “major impact” on the playing field and the school would still be able to teach physical education and run clubs and sporting events.

Mrs Crolla said: “If anybody within the community has concerns, the letter on the school website outlines everything for them or make an appointment to come and speak to me.”

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