Friday, 17 September 2021

New school not included in draft of neighbourhood plan

A DEVELOPER’S offer to build a new £6million primary school in Goring will not be included in the first draft of the village’s neighbourhood plan.

The parish council, which is overseeing production of the document, has voted against delaying the process in order to scrutinise the proposal by McAdden Homes.

The plan names four sites where 86 new homes should go in the village by 2027. It is expected to go to a referendum in February and councillors saying delaying this could leave Goring vulnerable to speculative development.

However, at an extraordinary meeting attended by about 300 villagers, the council agreed to investigate the school’s relocation separately and help parents and governors gather evidence to support it.

Councillors said the neighbourhood plan would include policies favouring a new school so McAdden’s scheme would not conflict with it and could be included in a later revision.

The Reading developer has suggested building a larger school on a field off Springhill Road, about half a mile north of the existing school in Wallingford Road. It would have a capacity of 315 pupils, an increase of 50 per cent.

In return, McAdden wants to be able to build 56 homes on land next to the new school plus another 46 on a field on the opposite side of Wallingford Road and 34 flats for the elderly on the existing school site.

The houses would be smaller units of up to three bedrooms and 40 per cent would be “affordable” with rents or purchase prices fixed below the market rate. The Diocese of Oxford says the Church of England school’s current premises, which date back to 1960, are overcrowded and falling into disrepair and will face growing pressure as more housing is built.

South Oxfordshire District Council, the planning authority, and Oxfordshire County Council, the education authority, would have to agree before the scheme could go ahead while neighbours and other nearby schools would have to be consulted.

The school would also have to prove the need for development outweighed the harm to the Chilterns Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty and that no other options were available.

Guy Hildred, from Ipsden, who owns the two fields and is working with McAdden, told a parish council meeting last week that he had been trying to discuss the idea with the neighbourhood plan’s steering group for 18 months without success.

He said: “They’ve steadfastly refused to meet us or cancelled appointments at short notice. We want to co-operate but have been turned away at every opportunity.

“They’re now claiming that allowing development could lead to hundreds more homes being built but that’s scaremongering and as far from the truth as possible. Taking information out of context to claim the village could double in size is reckless, irresponsible and wrong.

“We’ve been here for four generations — we’re here to stay and would not wish to be involved with something like that.

“We want the village to be a great place for everyone to live, not just those with school-age children. All we’re asking is for the community to consider our plan. If they don’t want it, fine.”

Sian Felwick, who has two children at the school, said: “The need for a new school is obvious to anyone who has visited. Even without an increase in pupil numbers, it will be unfit for purpose in a few years.

“No one says providing a new school will be easy but the steering group seems to be limiting development to the absolute minimum whereas many of us are willing to accept a proportionate amount of development in return.”

Fellow parent Penny Taylor said: “[The school] is riddled with asbestos, some toilets don’t work, there are windows that need replacing and it’s no longer fit for use.”

Helen Scurr, who chairs the governors, said the school currently had a role of 233 children when its official capacity is 210 and for every 100 homes that were built 28 new applications were expected, which would be unmanageable.

She said the school recently spent £1,600 on removing asbestos and relied increasingly on temporary classrooms, which reduced the amount of available outdoor space. It would cost about £1 million to renovate but this would not create any more places.

Headteacher Angela Wheatcroft said: “Before councillors vote, I would ask them to consider the children and their future. I absolutely support the neighbourhood plan process but the school has to be part of that.”

Councillor Bryan Urbick said the steering group understood the need for a new school but McAdden’s proposal wasn’t put forward when it invited submissions from landowners last year.

He said three independent landscape experts had deemed the field west of Wallingford Road unsuitable for housing due to the impact on the Chilterns Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, so a strong legal case would have to be made for development.

Halting the plan process to consider the scheme could set it back by up to six months and cost at least £10,000.

Cllr Urbick said: “I strongly feel that it would be a failure if we didn’t help the school get new premises or at least make significant improvements on what they have now.

“I believe the best way forward is not to include it in the first draft of the neighbourhood plan but deal with it as a strategic project within that process. We shouldn’t delay the plan.”

Council chairman Kevin Bulmer said: “We understand people’s concerns and do think of the children. However, that is the governors’ only job whereas our remit is a bit wider.

“There’s a lot of work to be done before we can achieve this legally. If we just went ahead and put those sites forward both the neighbourhood plan and the school proposal would be thrown out and it would be a disaster right across the board.”

After the meeting, Mr Hildred said he was pleased with the support that was shown but frustrated by the decision.

Mrs Wheatcroft said: “I believe the new school proposal is really important to future generations of Goring children and presents a unique opportunity for them to flourish so I’m disappointed that it won’t be in the neighbourhood plan.

“There are hurdles ahead but I believe the community has the strength and the ability to overcome them and achieve it.”

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