The application is for full planning permission for "The redevelopment of Lewisham Bridge Primary School, Elmira Street SE13, to provide a part three/part four storey all-age school (ages 3 -16 years) and a two-storey sports hall, together with landscaping including play areas, provision of 96 cycle spaces and 16 parking spaces."
If you would like to comment on this application please send an email to email@example.com including the Application Number (DC/09/70671/X ), your name, address, comment and reason for interest, before 17th February.
Some artist impressions from the developer's application are shown here (as always with artist impressions, they should be treated with caution. The one picture at the bottom makes it look like there will be a grassy path with landscaping leading up to the school, but of course that is the existing Cornmill Gardens and the school itself is in the background.)
I think it will probably go to a strategic planning committee, but just in case it comes to my planning committee, I need to be careful what I say and to keep an open mind at this point about the specifics of the planning application. However a few general thoughts on the proposals:
- It's not an ideal site, but we need a new secondary school and there is no other obvious, well-located site available to the Council within the timescale it needs to deliver a new secondary school (ie a few years ago). In my opinion it is a much better site for a secondary school than the Ladywell Leisure Centre site previously proposed (not on a busy main road, slightly closer to the north of the borough where the need for secondary school places is greatest, very close to public transport hubs).
- It is a small site for a secondary school, but this is inner-city London and unfortunately, we don't have sites with rolling playing fields around here to choose from. Other schools, such as Northbrook and Addey & Stanhope are on similarly constrained sites (I think this site is actually bigger than these two). The current site is arguably under-used, ie the school is big enough for a 3-form entry primary but it has for a number of years only had 1 and a half-form entry.
- Greens, along with the Socialists and other parties, called for a community school, ie one run by the local authority, but this was blocked by education minister Ed Balls, and Mayor Steve Bullock backed down on this rather than put up a fight and further delay the new school. We could argue about the pros and cons of this for ages, but given that there is unfortunately little imminent prospect of a Green or Socialist government, only a neo-liberal government (be it Tory or Labour) which supports acadamies etc, we may just have to accept that as a battle we can't currently win. Prendergast has an established and generally good reputation in the borough and is now conforming to the borough's admissions policy.
- Like all the other schools being built under the BSF (Building Schools for the Future) programme, it will be built using PFI (private finance initiative) money, ie on tick and we'll be paying it back over the next 25 years. Not something Greens support, but again, the funding of choice of the current government.
- There have been and will be local concerns about the extra pressure on surrounding roads due to the increase in pupil numbers, and the cumulative effect of this, alongside the proposed developments at Loampit Vale, Lewisham Gateway and Thurston Road. This is an issue that the highways officers will have to address when making their recommendations to the planning committee, and the school will need to demonstrate that it has a robust school travel plan which will do everything it can to encourage pupils and staff to walk, cycle or take public transport to school. It is a well-located site, near to cycle routes, buses, the DLR and the train station.
- There will be inconvenience to existing pupils, staff and parents while the current school is decanted to the Mornington Centre, but I think the impact of the decant will be considerably less than trying to build the new school in phases with the existing school still on site. A limited number of families and staff will be inconvenienced for a limited amount of time. The constraints that would have been placed on design and construction by trying to build a new school with the existing school on site would, I believe, have resulted in a far inferior design and much greater inconvenience to many. That said, much of my own primary education was spent in portakabin classrooms and between several different sites as the school was being changed, and to be honest, we adapted.
- Not building a new school would mean that many Lewisham children would have to commute outside the borough or to the other end of the borough to get to school, as many already do.
- The flipside of this of course if that in reducing a primary school down from 1 and a half-form entry to one-form entry, while at the same time there are plans for hundreds of new homes to be built next door, is that there may well in the future be a shortage of primary school places in central Lewisham.
- A number of people have expressed concern about how an all-through school will work, eg if there will be an increase in bullying etc. I'm no expert on this, but it seems to work with public schools, many schools elsewhere in Europe and the site is being designed in 3 distinct zones, with separate play areas and entrances for the nursery, primary and secondary school pupils. I taught at a 6-19 school in Minsk, Belarus, for a year, and it simply wasn't an issue - the younger children had separate play times to the older children, and each would look out for the other in corridors etc.
- I went along to the exhibition at Lewisham Bridge School before Christmas, to see the designs for the new school. I went with some trepidation and to be honest was pleasantly surprised with what was being proposed. I thought the designs made good use of the space available. I think we are now on something like the third version of the plans that have been to the design panel, the previous versions having been heavily criticised. I'm told that once the decision to decant rather than build in phases had been made, this freed the architects up to look at the whole site. Whereas earlier incarnations of the plans had considered having air-conditioned classrooms with windows that wouldn't open alongside the railway line, the current plans propose having the sports hall and dining area next to the railway, in a separate building (with covered walkways), which can be opened up for community access out of school hours.
- Off the top of my head I can't remember exactly what percentage of the site the footprint of the buildings comprise, but I did ask at the exhibition and if I recall correctly it was around 50%, ie a fair chunk of the site is ear-marked for outdoor play areas. Not as much as many of us would like, I'm sure, but not as bad as I feared it might be, given the site constraints. There is also the potential for the school to make use of the new leisure centre next door, when it is finally built.
- Sustainability issues: from what I have seen of the plans for the school so far, they seem to address sustainability issues much more comprehensively than the schools that have already been built/are being built under the BSF scheme. The applicants seem to be aiming for a BREEAM (BRE Environmental Assessment Method) excellent rating, which, if achieved, will be no mean feat. You can read the full preliminary BREEAM report here. It's disappointing that grey water recycling doesn't appear to have been incorporated into the plans, but designers seem confident that a substantial percentage of the school's energy needs will be met on site with a combination of solar panels and a biomass boiler.
- The Sustainable Development Committee, which I chair, is undertaking an ongoing review of the extent to which the BSF programme is addressing sustainability issues - not just looking at solar panels etc, but also wider issues around how the building meets the needs of the local community etc. We will be looking at the proposals for the new school at our meeting this Wednesday.
- Ladywell Society briefly discussed the new school plans at its meeting last Tuesday, and both Lewisham Central councillor Andrew Milton and I were there. A number of concerns were expressed, but members decided to go away and look at the proposals again in more detail before reaching a firm view either way.
- Biodiversity: efforts will need to be made to relocate the frogs, newts and other wildlife, which my ward colleague, Mike, who built the wildlife garden a few years back, assures me are still living in the wildlife garden. The time to do this is very soon, ie before they lay spawn this Spring.