Sunday, February 08, 2009

Planning Application for New School at Lewisham Bridge

The planning application for the proposed new 3-16 school at the site of the current Lewisham Bridge Primary School has now been submitted and can be found on the Council's planning portal.

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 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.
Apologies for the rather long post; I've been mulling this over for a while as I realise it's quite a controversial issue and not everyone in the ward (or within my own party) will agree with the comments I've made here.


Eleanor said...

Defend Education in Lewisham has made an assessment of the plans and finds them sorely lacking. The objection date has actually been extended to 18th March.

1. The scheme fails to address Lewisham’s need for school places.
• There is an overall loss of primary school places, when the plans for the immediate area envisage an increase in children of primary school age. Lewisham Council should not therefore be reducing places without a plan of where children who do not get a place there are to go.
• It is assumed that all children attending the school will live within 1km radius of the site (Design and Access Statement p.29). However, there is no assessment provided to demonstrate that this is in fact the case, nor that local children would choose the new school, nor that the new trust running the school would operate such a selection policy. The current shortfall in secondary places for 11 year olds is 232 for 2008/9. Developments planned for the immediate area will have a ‘child yield’ of 95 children over 11, and there are increasing numbers to be expected from the developments in Catford and Lee High Road. The new school proposed here will provide 120 places for 11 year olds, meaning that the new school does not substantially address Lewisham’s secondary school needs, while, in the context of all the new developments planned, it creates pressure on primary places.

The Loampit Vale planning application “Heath Impact Assessment” states (5.3.10):
“Demand for local school places at both a primary and secondary school level will rise as a consequence of the proposed development. The requirements of Loampit Vale are greater than the forecast surplus of local primary school places and will increase demand for places at the secondary level. In addition, the cumulative impact of the adjacent developments will increase the demand for places in local schools further”.

2. Provision for the health and well-being of the children is of a poor standard
• The phasing of the construction shows that younger children will be on site while further work is undertaken (Transport Assessment 2.4.7). There is no plan provided for the management of young children on what will effectively be a construction site for two years. No assessment has been made of the levels of noise and dust for the second stage of construction.
• The plans do not use the data in planning applications for Loampit Vale and Lewisham Gateway to assess the impact these will have on wind, sunlight, daylight, noise and pollution. However, there is cause for concern, for instance the BREEAM report (HW1) indicates that daylighting targets for schools will not be reached in the submitted designs. The levels of pollution which could be experienced by the school are not specifically addressed in the plans. The school is in an Air Quality Management Zone and Lewisham Gateway increases some pollutants by up to 5% and the Loampit Vale development by a further 2%.
• The BREEAM report shows that the school will meet only 10 out of the 18 credits for health and well-being, and this figure is mainly achieved on the basis of the plans providing policies. Credits missed include that for ensuring air intakes serving occupied areas avoid major sources of external pollution and recirculation of exhaust air (HW9); thermal zoning (HW15); acoustic criteria (HW17); and the provision of mains-fed drinking water dispensers (HW24).
• The play areas are extremely cramped and will require high levels of supervision and control. For instance, the play area for KS2 has maximum dimensions of 28m by 13m that is slightly smaller than an international netball court – for 120 children. (Because there is one dining room, with seats for 168 children, it is to be assumed that the younger children will have one sitting and therefore all KS2 children will be using the space at the same time. ) The younger children have no direct access to kick around areas or the netball court and must share much coveted stage space with older children. Although the nature reserve was under-used by the current primary school, it provided greenery and had the potential to be a wonderful resource. Overall, the constrained play space compares very unfavourably with the existing primary provision.
• Secondary school provision is also poor and no mention is made of travel to playing fields. The very fact that this issue is not addressed in the main plans is worrying.

3. There is no proof given that 800 children can successfully share the facilities.
• No indication is provided of how the shared use of facilities such as play areas, sports and dining areas can actually work once the school is fully operational, given the range of ages involved and the cramped nature of the site. For instance, there is one music suite, and one sports hall (with one marked out pitch) to be shared among 27 classes (excluding nursery children). There is one ICT suite (combined with a Learning Resources Centre) for the whole school, while the current primary school already has such a suite just for the primary school. The play areas are cramped and close to each other.

• It appears essential that the planners submit a proposed timetable for the use of the shared resources so that the planning committee, the parents and teachers at the current school and the general public can be persuaded that the plan would work in practice.

4. The Transport Assessment submitted for the application is incomplete.
• While it is assumed that children will live within 1km of the site, there is no concrete assessment of the likely catchment area of the secondary school (see section 1 above). There is no assessment of the impact on transport of local people who cannot get into the primary/nursery school and must therefore travel more. Until these assessments are done the Transport Assessment is a work of fiction and wishful thinking.
• The one assessment that is made, of the impact of extra traffic along Elmira and turning onto Loampit Vale (Transport Assessment 7.1) is inaccurate in its layout and fails to look also at the impact of these cars on the proposed new key junctions at Jerrard Street and Thurston Road.
• The other plans for the area will put a huge strain on public transport, but none of the models for these plans (Lewisham Gateway, Loampit Vale, Thurston Road) included an additional 600 secondary school children travelling on the buses, trains, cycling and walking. (Even walking could be a problem because some of the key pavements around the Gateway are already described as being so crowded as to be ‘uncomfortable’.)
• The extra provision of cycling spaces is to be welcomed, but the maps for cycle routes in the area are out of date because they are not based on the plans submitted for the Gateway and Loampit Vale developments. The existing plans for the new Lewisham Gateway provide no cycle paths round a very large, complex and busy roundabout – the Low-H system. The absence of provision for cyclists in the Gateway has been questioned by many local groups: to expect children to negotiate such a crossing is unrealistic.
• The maps for bus stops is also out of date because the Gateway will replace the current stop near the school on Loampit Vale.
• No account has been taken of the increased traffic and congestion as a result of coaches taking children to the playing fields. (The adequacy of playing fields is not addressed at all, the site of playing fields is not mentioned.) It is most unlikely that coach parking can be provided on Loampit Vale because the Lewisham Gateway plans will remove the bus stop on the south side by the bridge and to insert a coach stop could have destabilizing effects on traffic flows around the Low H. The Transport Assessment contains the curious, and unsubstantiated assertion that:
“provision has been made within the proposed Prendergast Vale School development to ensure that there is sufficient space within the school grounds for turning coaches entering via Elmira Street”. The only possible space would mean many coaches presumably going past the nursery and science garden areas.
• These considerations give rise to the strong possibility that coaches will be regularly using the local streets (Ellerdale, Algernon) or turning round in Elmira. Models for this should all be fed into the Transport Assessment for it to be complete and a serious piece of work.

5. Loss of architectural heritage
The plans involve the demolition of one of the few remaining historical buildings in the area and no consideration has been given to incorporating our heritage into the new design. The application itself notes that “the existing school building contributes positively to the urban landscape, particularly where it defines the western edge of Cornmill Gardens” Many organisations propose that the retention of old schools has many positive educational benefits, including the very generous space provisions which modern regulations ignore.

6. Loss of trees, habitat and the nature reserve
The plans involve the loss of trees and a nature reserve, as well as possible loss of bat habitat. The science garden is in a very curious place: the plans for the Loampit Vale development would indicate that the area would be very shaded.

7. Value for money
There are no costings provided for the scheme. Further along Loampit Vale is a very well-equipped FE College with plans to move to a site in Deptford. Would it not make more sense to convert that to a secondary school – with capacity to really provide for the secondary needs of Lewisham, and keep Lewisham Bridge. It has become a successful school and has very pleasant facilities – including an IT suite, nature reserve and large, well-equipped playground. Lewisham Council should have costed this alternative which would be much less disruptive for existing children at Lewisham Bridge and really address Lewisham’s future needs.

Sue said...

Thanks for your comments Eleanor. There are a lot of issues around highways and the cumulative impact of neighbouring developments that will need to be taken into account by the planning committee. I agree that the Lewisham College site on Lewisham Way is in some ways the better location for a new secondary school, nearer the north of the borough etc, but there are no guarantees that Lewisham Council could get that site (particularly if the college think they can squeeze lots of flats on it to pay for the rebuild of their Deptford site), or when, and we do need a new secondary school asap.

Rach said...

Thanks Sue for responding to my planning letter re Lewisham Bridge School. I have now checked your referred to blog and am probably even more despondent than when reading the feedback from your letter.

I'll copy in my original comments below, probably for the benefit of Eleanor, who seems to have made a very thorough study of the proposals.

I would reiterate the point that if we are planning new schools for the next 30+ years, we shouldn't be so keen to make second best choices, for what seems like political expediency. It seems that by solving the secondary school problems by squeezing everyone onto this site, we will only cause a primary school problem in the area.(Not to mention the mayhem that some are keen to cause to the existing children at Lewisham Bridge School). Do the council have another site planned in the vicinity for a new primary school? I see there is another bank of high-rise planned for next to the school. This on top of the tower blocks proposed for Lewisham Gateway. Someone's ego dictating that they must be higher than the empty Citi bank building. We are going to loose many of the views of the hills rising up from Lewisham, which if anyone cares to look, are green in summer. So the least we could do is provide all the children in compulsory education (many of whom will be living in the adjacent high-rise development with no gardens) with a quality outdoor space.

With the current fall in property prices, maybe Lewisham should re look at sites in the North of the borough again. Have they already done a deal with someone over the Mornington Centre at New Cross?

(and just a comment on your blog, but are children in Russia really at school from the age of 3?)

Letter to Planners re school development:

I wish to register the following objections to the above planning application.
I think Lewisham is going down the same route as Greenwich who over the years have sadly allowed the demolition of Rose Bruford College and the historical Borthwick Wharf. Whilst not being listed building they provided a continuity and mix to the area, creating an interesting architectural heritage. They have been replaced by pretty cheap looking accommodation (worse than Sundermead) and a vacant site. Lewisham will be left with Matalan and the poor architecture of the Sundermead estate. The existing school forms a smart boundary to Cornmill gardens and gives the area of sense of place and offers a continuity whilst all around changes.
The proposals for central Lewisham seem to be based on cramming as many people as possible into lots of high rise blocks. The school currently has one and a half form entry, which has plans to be reduced. Where are all these new children going to be educated? It seems there will already be a reduction in places for the existing population.
When I looked at the plans I struggled to see where the sports courts and general playgrounds were for a primary school, let alone the secondary. The space adjacent to the building seemed to have some outdoor provision, but then this seemed to be, inappropriately and against all current advice on play, covered in wet pour rubber. This surface may be easier to maintain in the short term, but it is not offering a learning opportunity or imaginative space. On further investigation it just seems that the playgrounds are mainly missing. So children who living in a densely urban setting, possibly in the new tower blocks surrounded by congested roads are being offered a congested school with minimal outdoor play space? So whilst Greenwich tries to introduce forest schools into their school setting, Lewisham do away with basic playgrounds. I don’t think it is just children who suffer from such an impoverished experience.
The footpaths in the area are already congested and the proposals for Lewisham Gateway proudly said they would be no worse than the existing situation. Now the existing situation involves hundreds of teenagers, who are not renowned for their careful pedestrian skills.
In addition I assume someone envisages 96 children cycling to school. The cycle friendly Lewisham Gateway project turned out to mean advance stop points on a busy road and cycle racks. Route 21 is off road for a short distance and crosses accesses into carparks and a tricky crossing when you come onto a narrow footpath from the railway bridge. If you are travelling from any other direction you are at the mercy of the traffic on the roads. Loampit Vale being particularly difficult with its bendy buses. As a parent who cycles her daughter to nursery and would hope that one day she would be able to cycle to school, I have no confidence in the Lewisham’s ability to provide anything other than token stretches of cycle route. Invariably not linking the places we need to commute between. As Cllr Madeleine Long who I understand still sits on the planning committee claims, parents don’t cycle with children on their bike and people don’t go shopping on their bikes. I imagine with this attitude she also thinks people don’t go to school on their bikes either. So I have no confidence particularly having seen the supposed cycle and pedestrian priority offered on Lewisham Gateway that there will be any attempt to provide a network of safe routes for the school.
Whilst sympathetic to the need for Lewisham to provide more secondary places in the north of the Borough, I feel that to cram children onto an obviously too small site is shameful. The timescale may well be tight, but the children’s futures are not. There appears to be ample room next to the school site, with empty development sites. I understand Lewisham College also intends moving out of its Lewisham Way site. We should be looking at exemplary education establishments and what works, not cramming our future into overdeveloped sites.

Sue said...

Hi Rachel
Thank you for your comments. I do share some of your concerns, and agree that it is a less than ideal site and rather a messy compromise. If I had felt back in 2006, when this decision was made, with cross-party support, that there was a better site, available and affordable to the Council, I would have been pushing for that, but I don't believe there was and I reluctantly accept that this is probably the best the borough is going to manage within a reasonable timeframe.

You are right that there will be a need for another primary school in the area within the next few years, something both the head of school effectiveness and the Mayor have acknowledged, and I will be pushing them to develop plans for this sooner rather than later.

Eleanor said...

Rachel I absolutely agree with your comments. I think it is shameful the way Lewisham are prepared to mess about with our children's lives for he sake of what seems to be to be jumping into bed with private finance.

Sue I don't a compromise for our kids. What we have at Lewisham Bridge is a very good school with excellent resources for children who are brought up in an inner city area. What we are being offered is downright second-rate to be honest and it is simply not good enough to go along with it. Sue you hapen to represent me in the Council and I don't think you've gone out there and heard the views over this issue. You ought t come down to our school and ask parents if they think a compromise is okay for their kids. As of January when my daughter joins the nursery class at the age of 3 she will be expected to travel on a bus for over 3 miles there and back. I don't think such disruption is okay for our children. I would urge anyone reading this to check out the Defend Education in Lewisham site and join our campaign.

Sue said...

I listened very carefully to all views on this issue and attended several meetings at the school, but on balance I didn't agree with what you were saying. However, now the building has been listed the Mayor and his officers will have to decide if the plans are in anyway still feasible and if not if he has a plan b or not. I am very concerned that we are unlikely to have a new secondary school in place by 2010, after many years of denial, wrangling and delays.

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