Marlborough's new primary school gets planning go-ahead at last - with traffic and ecology provisos
Wiltshire Council’s Eastern Area Planning Committee have given unanimous approval (May 12) to the planning application for Marlborough’s new primary school building, at Duck’s Meadow. Councillor Nick Fogg had referred the application after local residents raised concerns about traffic and Marlborough Town Council objected to the application in March.
Planning officer Nick Clark gave an overview, saying that, whilst it was widely supported by the community, there had been 17 letters raising concerns and objections, mostly relating to traffic issues.
A previous application in 2010, again to accommodate 440 pupils, received planning permission, but the coalition government's scrapping of the school building programme meant it was never built. The existing St Mary's Infant School building will stay in use while construction takes place.
The final phase - the demolition of the current building, should happen in summer 2017, although the new access and car parking may not be fully ready until early 2018. The school - known as Marlborough St Mary's Primary School - will have 30 full-time and 36 part-time teachers.
Committee Chairman Councillor Charles Howard gave time for members of the public and councillors to speak for or against the application.
Gordon Hutt, Chairman of Duck’s Meadow Residents’ Association, described himself as a reluctant objector. Whilst he welcomed the new combined infant and junior schools, he was very concerned about the safety of pupils, parents and residents.
St Mary’s Infant School currently has about 154 pupils, whereas the new school building can accommodate up to 440 - with potentially double the traffic. Problems, he said, have been compounded in recent years by cars using Ducks Meadow as a dropping off point for students at St John’s Academy.
The head teacher of the combined school, Anne Schwodler, spoke in favour of the development, emphasising the advantages for children with special educational needs. These pupils currently benefit from the excellent teaching at the St Mary’s Infant school, but are unable to attend St Peter’s because the building cannot be adapted to suit their needs.
Mrs Schwodler acknowledged existing traffic problems and said that a group of volunteers would monitor the situation from next Monday.
Ian Mellor, a Marlborough resident and chartered town planner, commended the sustainable design of the single-storey building. He suggested that the 115 spare spaces could be taken up by pupils who reside in Marlborough, but currently attend Preshute school - allowing Preshute to 'downsize and return to being a village school'.
Councillor Marion Hannaford-Dobson said that the town council’s planning committee had very reluctantly objected to the application because it was the only way they could draw attention to the issues. This may have prompted the drawing up of a new school travel plan, dated April 2016.
Councillors Laura Mayes (Cabinet Member for Children’s Services) and Richard Gamble (Portfolio Holder for Education) commented on parents’ behaviour and how it contributed to the traffic situation. Councillor Jerry Kunkler suggested that maybe the parents needed an educational champion too.
Though the Committee voted unanimously to approve the application, members wanted to find ways to mitigate the effects on local residents. Some of these are addressed by the revised school travel plan, which aims to 'reduce car-reliance'. Statistics show that 90% per cent of pupils will live within one mile of the site and most of those could walk.
As well as parking for bicycles and scooters, a new footpath, from Van Dieman’s Close, will offer an alternative access in school hours. The plan also provides for 'more active management' and promotion of the parking permit scheme for parents, in George Lane car park - however, Councillor Stewart Dobson doubted whether there were actually enough available spaces, especially on a winter’s afternoon.
Traffic and parking in the area is to be monitored and Wiltshire Council’s Highway Officer has indicated that traffic wardens could be deployed to 'take action where necessary'.
Some other conditions placed on the development relate to construction traffic and ecology. There will be temporary access in Isbury Road for construction vehicles, which will not be allowed to queue or park off-site. Site hours are regulated, there are arrangements to keep roads mud-free and any damage to access roads will be repaired.
Five bat boxes will be incorporated into the new building to accommodate the pipistrelle bat colony that uses the school as its home. Lighting at the new school must not be intrusive to neighbours or bats.
Resident slow worms will be caught and moved to a suitable location before work begins. Log piles for reptiles, bird boxes and native tree planting are proposed to encourage wildlife. Previously identified Neolithic archaeological features will be investigated before work takes place and the finds will be recorded.