Council allows Trust to press ahead with its controversial Aveley school plan in the green belt despite detailed arguments from local residents and ward councillors who are against the scheme

By Neil Speight

16th Jul 2022 | Local News

DESPITE a detailed and articulate presentation from informed residents and a passionate plea from a ward councillor, Thurrock Council's planning committee rubber-stamped its approval for a new primary school in Aveley.

Approval was granted at the second time of asking when the issue of the planned Harrier Primary school on land adjacent to the A13 and Love Lane came back before the committee on Thursday (14 April).

The application was submitted by Eco Modular Buildings (on behalf of the Secretary of State for Education). The school will be run by the Reach2 Academy Trust as a free school. A full summary of the application to last week's meeting can be found via this link and the more detailed original planning officers report – which includes all the reasons why the site breaches green belt regulations – can be found here.

Approval had been given at June's meeting but the application came back for a second debate when it was discovered residents' objections had not been included in a previous presentation to councillors. At the planning meeting on Thursday, 9 June, councillors voted 3-1 to approve the new Harrier Primary on land adjacent to the A13 and Love Lane.

Despite those objections and further representations at the meeting, the scheme was again approved 3-1.

Leading off in opposition to the proposals at this week's meeting as resident Cathy Sisterson, who has been a prominent member of the local campaign to try and save the open space.

She said:" Looking at Thurrock Council projected figures for Aveley Primary there will be a shortfall of 30 places by 2025. How does this justify the loss of green belt for a 420 place school, rather than one new classroom?"

Ms Sisterson broke down the local need for school places in her presentation to committee which echoes a previous submission to the original meeting made by Cllr James Halden, a former education portfolio. He argued the suggestion that there was an urgent need for primary school places in Aveley was not valid.

However, he was unable to attend the decision-making meeting in June and was again absent at the latest meeting.

Ms Sisterson's presentation can be seen in the main video with this story but the full text is at the end of this article..

Aveley and Uplands ward councillor Maureen Pearce also called on the council to rethink its decision, saying: "I wanted to add my objections to the proposal. I'm disappointed that the applicant never responded to my concerns or objections to the original consultation last year before proceeding with this application.

"The recommendation for approval is concerning. The scheme is rushed and disappointing. It admits that grade one agricultural land will be lost. It accepts that the scheme does harm to the green belt.

"To approve this application because of school places pressure is not a valid reason.

"School time drop off and picks will plague the whole estate and exacerbate the already dire traffic situation

"This is not an appropriate site."

Cllr Pearce also questioned the validity of the argument that there was an urgent need for school places in Aveley.

And she concluded by saying: "This application feels like a trojan horse for the delivery of thousands more homes south of Hall Road.

"This decision has been rushed and the proposal has a detrimental impact on the local amenity and I strongly object."

Cllr Pearce's presentation can be viewed in full via the link above. Apologies for the poor sound quality but a full audio recording is available here, in the council's record of the meeting. The school application discussion begins at 4:31 minutes into the meeting. 

Lee Francis from the Reach2 Trust said: " With regards to consultation, we undertook a consultation exercise including more than 400 leaflets being issued to residents, letters being sent to ward councillors and an online consultation site being made publicly available to all interested parties.

"There is no statutory requirement to undertake pre application consultation, but the trust felt it important to make sure everyone would be given the opportunity to make comments. 

"The school is being delivered to meet the need for school places within the local area. It is at the forefront of our priorities to meet that need and deliver school places and put local children first.

"The Trust is committed to simple arrangements that serve the local community."

Mr Francis' presentation can be viewed below. A full and clearer audio text is available (as mentioned above) here.

The full presentation of Cathy Sisterson:

"Thanks for giving me a chance to speak this evening, to outline the reasons why we as Aveley residents are opposed to this school plan.

"I went through many of them in the email which I sent to all committee members earlier this week, when I had initially been refused permission to speak.

"Firstly, in terms of the planning process, we feel we have been denied any input through local consultation. We have had one leaflet, in April 2021, from the developers which was distributed to a limited area around the site.

"They claim that there was a notice put up at the site informing us of the application. However, no-one locally saw that. My husband walks our dog there every day and he didn't see it, so we'd like some evidence that this was actually done.

And that's it – no meeting to ask for our opinions; nothing from the council at all.

"Compare this with the process around the proposed new council houses which are planned for the old library site in Aveley – we've had lots of publicity and a whole afternoon session where we could go and make suggestions and see what is planned. Surely a development with as much significance as a school should warrant as much consultation?

"Or indeed any development on green belt land, particularly green belt land that borders our village and is used extensively by local people for stabling horses and for walking.

"The officer's report goes into detail around the green belt, and says that substantial weight should be given to the fact that the school would be 'inappropriate development', would harm the openness and conflict with green belt purposes, and would also mean that we have lost Grade 1 agricultural land.

"This is particularly significant at this time of increased awareness of the importance of food security and the need to produce food here in this country. They then go on to argue for 'very special circumstances' why this application should be allowed.

" Central to this is the stated need for school places. This is where we disagree, certainly in the area that would be served by this site. Note that the applicant is explicit in saying that there are no current plans for substantial new housing development, so the application must be judged solely on the existing need.

"Let's look at the figures, from Thurrock's Pupil Place Plan (not the applicant's figures which were exaggerated and had no basis in Thurrock's own figures). In 2025, Aveley will be short of 27 primary school places, across the primary school (just short of 2 reception places).

"Kenningtons' need is greater, being short of 59 primary school places, 12 at reception level. Purfleet, meanwhile, will be undersubscribed by 99, 30 at reception age. These figures clearly take no regard of children who may go out of borough for school, which is fairly common as we are at the western edge of Thurrock, but we will take them as a maximum.

"At primary age it is best, I think we can all agree, if children are able to walk to school and make local friends. I'm assuming that you know the geography of Aveley. In Aveley village, the maximum number of extra places we need is 30. This need could comfortably be met by bulge classes as has been done in the year six just leaving; and with children choosing to go out of borough, may not even be necessary.

"In Kenningtons, separated from Aveley village by the by-pass, there is a larger shortfall, of 59. The distance from the centre of Kenningtons to the bottom of Love Lane (the proposed site) is 1.4 miles, a thirty minute walk. Clearly this is not the best site for children from Kenningtons. They too would be better served by expanding the existing school, rather than a lengthy walk, or more likely a drive if parents have a car.

"These two scenarios may cost the council a certain amount of money, but if this succeeds in protecting our valuable green belt, we would argue that this would be money well spent. Therefore, we argue that there are really not 'very special circumstances' for building on the green belt protecting Aveley.

"Finally, I'd like to look at the plan itself.

"As I said on my email, this does not meet the 'outstanding' environmental standards required by law for building on green belt, simply 'very good'. They are claiming a 20% reduction in carbon emissions compared with traditional buildings. Why not zero carbon, or even carbon negative? This is a school, a marvellous opportunity for children to learn about the harm fossil fuels do and the measures that need to be taken to combat climate change. Can I remind you that Thurrock Council has declared a climate emergency, so should be doing all they can to address this.

"We could have parents cars banned from the site, which most schools do anyway.

"We could have a school street, with cars banned at the beginning and end of the school day so that children can safely walk, cycle of scoot to school.

"We could have solar panels and heat pumps, maybe a wind turbine, maybe a green roof as suggested by Urban Planners? If we are to have it, it is a great opportunity for building something for the future, something that Thurrock can be proud of, something that sets the bar for any future development.

"They argue that the cost is prohibitive. However, running costs would be hugely reduced so the investment would soon be paid back. And the cost of not doing this in terms of environmental damage to the green belt, the loss of wildlife habitat, and in climate terms, should be the thing that is actually preventative.

"Why not call their bluff and demand the very best for the children of Aveley, not just a cheap, poorly designed, modular building. They surely deserve that, particularly if you are taking away their horses fields and dog walking paths. As for re-routing the public right of way, this would not be necessary if the school were not built.

"If it is, please make sure that it is safe and attractive to use, with plenty of natural habitation included."

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