Tuesday, 18 December 2018

School urged to redesign new classroom building

School urged to redesign new classroom building

BENSON Primary School’s plans to expand have suffered a setback.

South Oxfordshire District Council, the planning authority, has said the scheme should be redesigned.

The Oxford Road school wants to build a block of three classrooms on part of its playing field, saying more space is needed to meet the extra demand for places caused by hundreds of new homes being built.

It says the new building needs to be ready for use by the start of the next academic year in September and that another three classrooms may be needed by 2024.

The new building and a hard play area would take up a quarter of the field, which is in the Benson conservation area.

But the district council, the planning authority, has criticised a planning application submitted by Oxfordshire County Council, the education authority.

Consultant planning officer David Millinship said: “The overly large scale and prominent location of the classroom block and the prominent location of the proposed car park would erode the openness of the site, failing to respect the distinctive character and appearance of the conservation area.

“It is considered that a revised scheme could be brought forward potentially involving some vegetative screening, a less obtrusive design of the building and relocated car park. This may also allow for a larger area of the adjacent playing field to be retained.”

Mr Millinship said the extra classrooms would improve the school but losing part of the playing field was an “undesirable outcome”.

He added: “In 2002 planning permission was granted for an extension comprising a five-class teaching block, Early Years unit, library, new administrative area and conversion of existing administrative area into new staff amenities.

“This projected over an area of the school playing field. While the impact of the 2002 scheme was considered to be acceptable, I have concerns over a further loss of the open space.

“I share general concerns over the scale and separation of the classroom block from the main school building.

“I also have concerns with regards to the proposed location of the new car park. I appreciate it is required but it would seem unfortunate to locate it near the public highway where it would have the most severe visual impact on the conservation area.

“It is possible that alternative hard-surfacing materials or planting could mitigate the adverse visual impact. I would also suggest that off-site car parking for staff be considered.

“It should be noted that the district council has received a high number of objections to the scheme in relation to the harm that would be caused to the character of the conservation area. This includes objections from the district councillor, Benson Parish Council and a number of local residents.

“However, I consider there is scope for the design to be revised, and/or mitigation measures to be included in order to ensure the openness of the site and distinctive character of the conservation area are better preserved.” Benson Parish Council objected to the application, saying the development could lead to the rest of the field being built on in future.

The plans were also criticised by Mark Gray, who is Benson’s representative on the county council, and Councillor Sue Cooper, who represents the village on the district council.

The pair produced a leaflet, which was delivered to every home in the village, saying the playing field should be saved and that the county council should come up with an alternative plan.

Cllr Cooper urged the county council to try to acquire the derelict Keable House in nearby Littleworth Road, which could accommodate the school.

Another option would be to have a new, two-form entry school somewhere else in the village.

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