Thursday, 23 September 2021

Fight to have new school in village neighbourhood plan

SUPPORTERS of plans to relocate Goring Primary School have received a boost.

Out of more than 100 people who attended a recent drop-in meeting about the proposal 86 per cent were in favour.

The governors of the Church of England primary off Wallingford Road want to build a new £6.5 million school on a field off Springhill Road, saying the existing school is dilapidated and oversubscribed.

The school, which was built in the Sixties, would then be demolished and the site redeveloped into 34 flats while 56 houses would be built next to the new school and another 46 would go on a field on the other side of Wallingford Road.

However, the volunteer steering group which is writing Goring’s neighbourhood plan says there isn’t enough evidence that the proposal is viable and the referendum on the plan must go ahead as soon as possible to help prevent speculative development.

It also says the field west of Wallingford Road is unsuitable for development as it would harm views of the Chilterns Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty.

The school’s supporters say the proposal is important to the future of Goring as prospective pupils are being turned away even if they live in the village and that it should be included in the plan.

Bob Gregory, a former school governor, said: “Goring is facing a major challenge. The current school is already unable to cope with the demand for places while it has outlived its 60-year design life and is crumbling. The governors have a responsibility to consider its long-term direction. It is essential that places are available for all in-catchment area children.

“The proposal would enable a new purpose-built school, fit for the future, to be provided and retain much more of an open aspect, ameliorating concerns that it would negatively impact on the AONB.

“There is potentially significant support in the village for grasping this unique, one-off opportunity.”

Amber Rhind, of Gatehampton Road, whose five-year-son Elliott attends the school and whose other son Dexter, three, is on the waiting list, said: “This is an amazing opportunity for Goring.

“I understand that people want to explore what’s in it for the developer and ensure it’s right for the community as a whole but the school is in a state of disrepair.

“Parts of it are in a really bad way but unless the roof falls in or something similarly catastrophic happens, the county council doesn’t have the funding for improvements.

“Realistically, there will be no new school without some kind of development and since this offer is on the table we might as well explore it.

“The school is too small as it stands and with extra housing coming to Goring, the pressure is only going to increase. The steering group needs to think about the impact this will have on the community.” Lisa Chick, of Fairfield Road, who has three children at the school, said: “When my middle daughter applied five years ago, she only got in because she had an older sister there but lots of children living just five minutes away were going to be turned down.

“They only got in because the school put up a portable cabin but that’s a temporary fix and doesn’t provide any additional facilities like sports fields.

“The children haven’t had hot meals since May because something broke in the kitchen and the funding wasn’t there to fix it straight away. If that happened in a big city school there would be uproar.

“The staff are brilliant but are being let down by the facilities. It’s not a sustainable position and I don’t think we can afford to reject this offer out of hand. We should at least explore it.”

Murray Symes, of Cleeve Road, whose children Ben, six, and Ella, nine, attend the school, said: “This is an opportunity for the landowner and developer to work together for the good of the community. A new school would otherwise cost more than £6 million and that kind of opportunity doesn’t come along very often.”

Phil Johnson, of Yew Tree Court, whose children Andrew and Laura attended the school 25 years ago, said: “My concern is the long-term wellbeing of the school and what this means for the village.

“We have enough difficulty in finding developable land that doesn’t impact on the AONB or have a flood risk, so a new site that provides an extra 34 properties without these major restrictions is to be welcomed. Saying it was tabled too late to be considered seems to be a cop-out when so much is to be gained by changing the neighbourhood plan while the opportunity still exists.

“There is growing support in the village for this proposal and there is a risk that the plan could be rejected outright, which is surely the worst possible outcome.”

A spokeswoman for the school governors said: “Our drop-in meeting was very successful with lots of positive feedback. It was particularly encouraging to see support from older members of the community.

“One former pupil commented that the school hadn’t changed one bit since she left decades ago and, if anything, it had deteriorated. There’s genuine concern across the generations, not just from current parents.

“We are very supportive of the neighbourhood plan and respect the work that has gone into it but feel it needs to change to incorporate this proposal.”

The neighbourhood plan steering group says the school’s proposal was not put forward when submissions were invited from landowners last year and the plan must go to a referendum in the autumn in order to give Goring greater protection from unwanted development.

The plan names the sites where 86 new homes should be built by 2027 in order to meet government targets.

The two fields where the houses would be built under the school’s proposal are owned by the Hildred family, of Ipsden, who say this is the only way the school scheme could be viable.

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