Lively Public Debate About Brent Lea
Councilís willingness to listen to residents on issue questioned
Thursday night saw St Paul's church full of residents wanting to discuss the planning application to put a primary school on Brent Lea Recereating Ground; this will be decided next Thursday.
The case officer, Steve Hissett stated that the planning report had already been written which recommended approval of the planning application for the two year temporary use of Brent Lea as Floreat Brentford.
This set the tone for what proved to be an angry meeting of residents couldn't understand why any of the brownfield sites in Brentford were not suitable for a primary school, whether temporary or not.
Anger was expressed, notably by Paul Slattery but from several members of the audience, that as a resident of Brentford for over 30 years he hasn't seen any new schools being built when there was plenty of space, alongside developments like Ferry Quays and Brentford Dock, and that this school place crisis didn't happen overnight.
The current system means that free schools can be set up wherever they want and that local authorities have little control over this process. David Brockie, School Placement Planning, explained that over the past few years all school have or are being expanded to their maximum capacity, at varying costs, depending the suitability and size of their sites. They are working with education providers like Floreat to build new schools. Funding from Department of Education goes to free schools, not to councils. Projections of places needed are dependent on approved planning applications rather than tentative ones so are less precise the further into the future you look. There is an approved formula that calculates child yield from developments.
George Wigan, of Planning Policy has been developing the local plan which has to allocate sites for education and Brent Lea was not one of them. He did agree that a large proportion of the borough's housing is in Brentford.
Hazel Dakers criticised the use of the word housing when it is in fact all flats and said that schools have to be planned for the long term.
There was a lack of belief that the school's location on Brent Lea would or could be moved after two years existence on the site despite Steve saying there would be conditions on planning permission saying the temporary structures should be taken down.
If it is to be a two year temporary site, why not use the north end of Commerce Road, which is not due to be built on for several years yet, asked Peter Hughes, former President of Brentford Chamber of Commerce.
Sarah Ruane, Head of Leisure and Preventative Health spoke of the cost of maintaining open space in the current financial climate. News that her department had conducted an internal review last year on all open spaces to look at their quality and distribution across the borough was greeted with surprise from the floor that the public hadn't been consulted on this. Sarah gave the impression, which she tried to correct, that the amount of maintenance necessary turned these open spaces into a burden rather than an asset.
Rob Hislop, from Transport gave a very brief description of the traffic challenges for Brent Lea as a site. Half Moon Close, the nearest road is for local residents and parking and is not suitable to drop children off for school. The expectation is that about a quarter of children will be delivered to school by car. Alternative suggestions being discussed were the Majestic car park across the main road and even Syon Park as possible use for teachers and other staff. The School Travel Plan which needs to address all these issues would be a requirement of planning permission.
A parent whose child is due to start at Floreat Brentford this September asked what would happen to her if this application was turned down. Cllr Tom Bruce, Lead Member for Education and Children Services, was unable to provide an answer although a representative from Floreat said they had alternatives in mind but was unwilling to provide details.
Denis Browne, Chair of Planning of Brentford Community Council got a round of applause for saying "This is not planning. This is emergency operation". He criticised the failure of the council to deliver a school, whether primary or secondary, on the bus garage site at Commerce Road, a sentiment echoed by Ruth Cadbury MP who had tried to deliver it. Denis also said that the number of school sites listed in the local plan for Brentford are completely inadequate for the numbers projected.
People struggled to understand why other sites, like the police station, Griffin Park or part of Ballymore's site couldn't be used for schools. They couldn't understand why sites that are privately owned are dismissed and why only green spaces were being proposed for education use. George Wigan tried to explain that all sites have been looked at and many of them deemed inappropriate due to ownership or deliverability.
While the evening focused on Brent Lea there was also mention of the proposed deal with Grasshoppers which will see further loss of open metropolitan land and a relocation of Grasshoppers to a much smaller and more distant site.
The legalities of appropriation of Metropolitan Open Land were raised. The criteria are quite strict and both the Mayor of London and the Secretary of State have the power to call them in. Cllr Steve Curran felt this wouldn't be a problem. Steve said he didn't agree with all that he had heard but that he did understand the frustration. He reiterated Cllr Bruce's statement that the council does not have control over where schools are built, adding that the council has responsibility to provide enough school places anyway.
John Bradley explained that Brent Lea Recreation Ground was given over by the Duke of Northumberland in 1961 following the loss of green space on The Ham which was turned into an industrial estate.
Denis Browne also pointed that that the notorious "sausage shape" of the borough makes Hounslow difficult to manage as many residents, and councillors don't know the part of the borough that isn't theirs. This means that many of the councillors sitting on planning committees don't actually know the areas that they are being asked to make decisions on. Denis reminded people that they need to join Brentford Community Council and help continue to put views forward to the council for the next 30 years.
Suzie Betlem, President of Brentford Chamber of Commerce, ably chaired what was a difficult meeting, attended by well over 100 people, including all 3 Syon ward councillors, various members of the local Green Party who have been supporting the petition against the loss of green land, a number of parents with young children concerned about their school places and Jo Russell, resident of Brent Lea, who sparked off this meeting by asking Steve Curran to sign the petition (which he refused to do). The meeting was live-tweeted and you can scroll through for the blow by blow version.
The planning application will be decided next Thursday at Hounslow Civic Centre from 7.30pm. The agenda and planning report can be read on Hounslow's website, hopefully with an addendum report summarising issues raised in the meeting. Residents are encouraged to attend although there will be limited opportunity to speak.
There is a petition to save Hounslow's green spaces and parks, in response to this and other applications or proposals to build schools on green belt.
Find the planning application by visiting planning search (agreeing T&Cs, and then selecting "search planning applications") and then entering 00707/AK/P1 in the box marked Planning number.
June 1, 2015