A NEW school to cope with demand in Newbury – which West Berkshire Council insists is independent of the proposed 2,000-home Sandleford Park development just a stone’s throw away – has been given the go-ahead.
Councillors on the western area planning committee unanimously approved the council’s own plans for the 210-pupil school at a meeting last Wednesday.
The council said that Highwood Copse Primary would cater for demand as local schools are at capacity and there is no room for expansion.
The school will be built on land to the south of Newbury College – right on the doorstep of Sandleford Park.
But when asked whether the school would cater for Sandleford at last week’s meeting, the council’s education development officer Greg Bowman said: “Sandleford will wash its own face when it comes about.”
The council said that Sandleford had never been part of the business case for Highwood and was to ensure capacity in Newbury.
It said that 495 primary school places had been allocated when current capacity stood at 489, demonstrating the need for the new school.
Highwood has the potential to expand to take 420 pupils, should demand for places continue.
The council intends to open the school in September 2018, starting with an intake of 30 foundation pupils and increasing to 30 pupils year-on-year until the school reaches capacity.
A temporary access road will connect the school through the college for the first two years after it opens.
A proposed new link road off the A339 will then serve as the primary route to the school, and possibly Sandleford itself if plans are approved.
The council’s property services project manager Bill Bagnell said that the temporary route would cost between £100,000 and £110,000, while the link road would be “an expensive piece of work”.
The school includes a ‘kiss and drop’ facility to allow parents to pick up and drop off children from the day it opens.
Recalling experiences during peak hours outside schools in his ward Garth Simpson (Con, Cold Ash) urged council officers to conduct further work on the scheme.
He said that St Finian’s School ran a rigorous drop-off system during the morning, but had “lots of problems in the afternoon because the women want to park up their cars and chat”.
Mr Bagnell replied: “This system works on a constant moving of cars and will have to be managed by the school.
“It does break down if you just let it run itself.”
Further concerns came from Anthony Pick (Con, St John’s) who said he was worried about a backlog of traffic on the A339 once the link road opened.
Mr Pick said that parents might be inclined to drop their children off at the college and let them walk to the new school to avoid tackling the A339.
Mr Bagnell admitted there was nothing to stop this from occurring, but added that he didn’t think it would be a problem.
Highways officers had said that the proposals would have a severe impact on the northbound carriageway of the A339 – already busy at peak periods – and would further increase queues.
Addressing Mr Pick’s concerns, the council’s senior engineer, Gareth Dowding, said that the predicted queues related to the school being fully operational.
He said: “By that time it’s anticipated we will have our Monks Lane and Pinchington Lane scheme in place, traffic lights or a large roundabout, which will allow traffic to flow.
“It’s a fully signal-controlled junction.
“You don’t have to go up and u-turn at either end. We have all movements catered for.”
The Grenfell Tower tragedy came up at the meeting, with Hilary Cole (Con, Chieveley) asking what fire safety measures would be in place at the new school.
Mr Bagnell said that sprinklers would be installed in the school under Department for Education requirements.
When asked about cladding, Andy Vernon of Kier Construction said that it would be different from the type used on Grenfell Tower.
He added that, in his opinion, wood cladding was not a fire risk.
Billy Drummond (Lib Dem, Greenham) said he supported the new school as The Willows, where he is a governor, was oversubscribed.
Jeff Beck (Con, Clay Hill) said: “I do feel that the council are to be commended in the work they have put in bringing forward this school.
“There’s a tremendous amount of work going on with highways etc and I feel that the council is really working on behalf of the residents of Newbury and possibly North Hampshire.”
Council spokesman Martin Dunscombe said: “We are still in discussions with developers as to the number of houses at Sandleford and this will inform the education requirements associated with the project.”