OBJECTION ! Or how a lot of your money may be about to be spent, soon, it seems, to provide temporary accommodation at the Whitehall Park School.

David Barry's picture
 6
INTRODUCTION

In my last posting here:

I examined the claims from Bellevue Place Education that their new school was much in demand from local parents. From material submitted by Bellevue Place themselves as part of a planning application I was able to show it was not that much demand and mostly from parents who could not be described as local. In this posting I will take a closer look at the planning application.

Actually there are two announced planning applications. The first is for temporary accommodation to be placed on the old Ashmount site so the school can open in September 2014 and which will cease to be used (and be removed) August 2015, because by then the new permanent building (a fast build) will be ready. The second planning application, announced, but not yet made, so no details at all yet, is for the permanent building.

As Bellevue Place explain:

"..proposals for the construction of high-quality temporary buildings which will accommodate the Reception pupils joining Whitehall Park School this September have been submitted to Islington council."

(So, portocabins, then).

The planning application is summarised thus:

"The construction of 3 single storey modular buildings with adjoining canopy, replacement boundary gates fronting Ashmount Road with vehicular access from Ashmount Road and a chain link and solid fence bounding the site, all for a limited period to provide temporary accommodation for a new primary school. "

The overall project plan, of which this is the first part is described as:

"The project plan .... predicts that the contractor will start on site in January 2015. Phase One of the new building, which will accommodate Reception and Key Stage 1 classes (Years 1 and 2), is scheduled for completion for September 2015. Phase Two is due to be handed over just two months later, although this area of the building will not be required until the school’s first pupils reach Year 3 (Key Stage 2) in September 2017. "

It is intended, they explain, to submit a planning application for the new building by Autumn 2014. Not long to go now.

Of course there was a lot of material submitted in support of their planning application. As I live very short distance for the old Ashmount site, I downloaded the full information, read it carefully, and decided to lodge an objection.

THE OBJECTION

(Slightly edited and shortened for this post)

Whitehall Park School planning application to Islington Council P2014/1754/FUL

INTRODUCTION

I oppose this planning application as the information in the application insufficient to enable the planning committee to make a decision. Instead, in my view, supplementary information is required, and should be requested of the applicant before a final decision is made. Moreover some of the information provided in support of the application appears to me to be incomplete and appears to include at least one meaningless sentence. Overlooked at the proof reading stage, no doubt.

In writing this I had access to documents submitted in support of the application as published on the Islington Council website. I am also a resident a few minutes away from the old Ashmount School site, and so have a good knowledge of the area and issues regarding, for example, traffic, including when Ashmount School was there. I have been a Governor of Ashmount School for twenty years and so am very familiar with the site and issues relating to the old building. I took part in the discussions held when the option of a phased demolition of the old Building and the construction of a new building was considered, and rejected, as a way of re providing Ashmount School. As Chair of Governors for an eight year period I served on the Project Board of the Crouch Hill Project. Consequently I have contemporary experience both of Local Authority planning processes and the complexities of a large scale construction project, including their propensity for delay. This last is relevant as the planning application is for temporary structures only to be replaced by a permanent structure in September 2015.

SOME OF THE DETAILED OBJECTIONS I MADE

"Temporary?"

I am concerned that this is being submitted as a temporary application, which would normally make the granting of it easier, as it relies on the new building being ready in September 2015. A building for which planning permission has not yet been sought and which would require a complex and contentious demolition involving asbestos stripping, with children on site. This seems to me to have two impacts on the committee's deliberations:-

a.What happens if the new building is not ready on time? Does the committee wish to add planning conditions to cover that eventuality?

b.When, shortly (it seems) the planning application comes through to demolish and rebuild will the committee, if it has granted the permission for this temporary structure find it therefore committed to granting permission for the permanent new build as otherwise the children who have been allowed on to the site will have nowhere to go when the permission for the temporary building expires?

"Educational Vision"

In the design and access statement, page 5, under the heading "Educational Vision" a number of points are made relating to the proposed educational offer and the background of the proposers which the applicant clearly regards as relevant to the evaluation of the planning application, as otherwise they would not be included. This makes comments on them also relevant for the committee.

The first point relates to the credibility of the proposers. They state:

"The proposer group consists of Place Group, a school services company, and Bellevue Education Group which runs 7 independent preparatory schools (4 Schools were rated excellent and 1 good by the Independent Schools inspectorate. I school was rated outstanding and 1 good by OfSted.)

This, as it stands, is incorrect. While it is true that OfSted do give an overall rating to schools, and so it is quite possible that one of their schools was rated "Outstanding" and another "Good" the Independent Schools Inspectorate, which inspect the other five, do not. Or as the ISI say in the standard preamble to one of their reports:

"ISI reports do not provide a single overarching judgement for the
school"

It would seem reasonable for the committee therefore to seek clarification on this point, particularly as the proposer group have previously been imprecise in this area, and were censured by the Advertising Standards Agency for this. (Wrongful use of the term "outstanding") By way of clarifying (and verifying) the proposers claims the committee might ask them to:-

a. List the schools in question by name

b. Provide the information needed to obtain from the ISI or Ofsted as appropriate the latest reports.

c. State, in the case of each school, the date on which they were acquired by the proposers as that relevant to any evaluation of the proposers track record. Which they appear to regard as relevant to this application.

Finally, they also state:

" The proposer Group is an existing Academy Sponsor of Waterwells Academy (converted 2013) and opened Rutherford House Free School in September 2013."

It would be useful have full information on Waterwells Academy, including its most recent OfSted report, as the proposers have not chosen to disclose its rating. Regarding Rutherford House School, while, as a new school it has not had an OfSted it would be relevant to ask when the building works for that school were completed, and if there was any schedule slippage, as that would throw light on their experience in these matters.

" Aspirations"

The proposers also include their aspirations for the school which includes two statements the committee might find problematic (again I assume they are relevant for planning issues as the proposer has chosen to include them) The first is that the school:

"will combine the best aspects of education from the State and Independent Sectors" Section 2.1. page 6

This is, it would appear, seen as so important that it is repeated several times in the whole documentation bundle. It would be of interest to know what the proposers regard as the "best aspects of education from the State Sector" what they regard as "the best aspects of education from the Independent Sector" and how they propose to combine them.

The second is the statement that:

"Whitehall Park School will provide smaller class sizes of 28-30 to allow teachers to get to know their pupils"

But the normal size for classes in Islington Primary Schools is in that range. In fact reception classes in Local Authority schools, are restricted by law to 30. So the question is "fewer than what?" There is an implied contrast here with schools with more than 30 in a class where teachers do not "know their pupils.' As no schools in Islington, or Harringey for that matter, match that discription further exploration of the point is indicated. The committee might wish to seek clarification on this point, if it thought it relevant.

Finally on page 6, paragraph three, the first sentence is meaningless, it is likely some text has been missed out, and the omission not noticed on proof reading. The committee might wish to ask what that sentence was supposed to be, and thereby be able to judge if it was significant.

" Traffic "

When Ashmount School was there the vast majority of children lived within easy walking distance, and strenious efforts were made to discourage car use. Even so a small minority of parents did use cars, and because of the confined nature of the Ashmount Road "drop off" area, even these small numbers could, from time to time, cause congestion in a way which inconvenienced residents on Ashmount Road near the school, and was often the subject of complaints to the school and discussion at Governing Body meetings. The return of a school to that site inevitably raises the possibility of traffic problems returning. This issue is addressed by the applicants in two documents. A Transport statement and a Travel plan.

The Transport Statement lists on page 9 the no less than 12 separate postcodes from which, on the information they had before compiling the report (which is dated May 2014 ) applications to the school had been received. They concluded:

"Some of these postcode areas are over 10km from the school site, which is
considerably further than may be expected for the typical journey to school area for a primary school. Pupils travelling longer distances to primary school may be less likely to use active modes of transport i.e. cycling, walking and scooters and more likely to be transported by car, however without more detailed information on pupils' home postcodes and numbers the effect on use of different modes of transport is difficult to forecast."

The Travel plan includes a map, which appears to be based on the same, now out of date, information.

It seems entirely reasonable that the committee would expect to get the most up to date information possible. Given that the school will need to monitor admissions carefully, and has already announced a programme of home visits to the home addresses of accepting children, they must be keeping their records updated on a daily basis. Be that as it may the committee should ask for a breakdown of application information dated as close to the planning meeting as practicable (a week before?). It might also be considered approriate to have as a planning condition, if the application granted, which requires regular updating on the progress of admissions.

The information needed would be the number of applications actually accepted, and not just made, by postcode, and the number of outstanding offers, that is offers made for which the deadline for responding has not passed, but, at least so far, have not been accepted. The figures would also take account of those who, having been offered a place, and accepted it, have now relinquished that offer in favour of a preferred place at another school. Care has to be taken on this, as in this year Whitehall Park School is not part of the London Pan Admissions system, is taking applications directly, and it is entirely possible therefore for a parent to have two offers, one for Whitehall Park and one for another school. It would also be helpful as well as these figures to have an updated map. As the school needs to have this information at its finger tips, it is not burdensome to ask for it.

Without this information it is impossible, as the Traffic Statement concedes, to get a clear idea of the likely impact on traffic. As a resident I have a reasonable apprehension that if the pattern of recruitment to this school so different to Ashmount and includes people as far away as Tottenham, the impact of traffic on my amenity, and the amenity of people on Ashmount Road and Gresley Road always noticeable when Ashmount was there, could be significant. This would be due to a greater propensity to car use by pupils coming much larger distances to a site poorly served by public transport.

CONCLUSION

Obviously it will be interesting to see what Islington planning committee make of my objection but from the point of view of the tax payer it seems that we will all be meeting the cost of installing the temporary classrooms This will be followed by, planning permission having been obtained for the demolish and rebuild, a process of seeking tenders from builders at a time when contractors prices are high, and when the contractors bidding will know that the contract HAS to be awarded otherwise there is nowhere for children to be taught after September 2015....

And all on a very tight timetable which also drives up costs. And for a school whose very pattern of recruitment confirms that in this area there is insufficient demand for places....

In fact the timetable is so tight that it deserves further examination which I will give in another post, but in the meantime I look forward to comments on this, and the other points.

But even given the timetable the plan seems to involve housing the children, in portocabins, on a building site for a year.

It also remains true that the Minister has still not yet made the formal announcement that he is taking the site.

Almost as if someone at the DfE was trying to preserve, for as long as possible, the option of withdrawing from the project...
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Comments

Janet Downs's picture
Fri, 13/06/2014 - 07:11

David - the information given in the planning application re Waterwells Primary Academy is incorrect. Waterwells is a new school which opened in September 2013 - it didn't convert from anything. It will not be inspected until it's been opened for two years.

Its sponsor is The Robinswood Academy Trust which, according to a local newspaper "combines Robinswood Primary School’s outstanding educational provision with the expertise of Place Group, who have already managed the successful opening of more than 85 academies and free schools."

That doesn't mean Place is the sponsor - it's likely to mean Robinswood Academy Trust hires Place to provide backroom services. Having said that, Gloucester Council announced in 2012 that Place Group Ltd would co-sponsor the new Waterwells Primary Academy.

Neither Place Group Ltd nor Bellevue Education Trust appear on the May 2014 list of approved academy sponsors (downloadable here).






Barry Wise's picture
Fri, 13/06/2014 - 11:44

David, Is there anything in the planning application that gives any clue as to the role being played by the Education Funding Agency (EFA) arm of DfE? I remember reading that they are now supposed to be hands-on managing capital projects for free schools. It may be that the documents are put 'in the name of' Bellevue but the project is actually being run by EFA. I would guess that because the site was once a school, the planning permission aspects would be fairly straightforward - no change of use etc.

What I don't understand is why it is any business of the planning committee what grade Ofsted gave to other schools in the trust!



Janet, I don't think sponsors of already open free schools need to apply to be on the list of approved academy sponsors, so Rutherford House seals it for Bellevue, I assume.

Janet Downs's picture
Fri, 13/06/2014 - 14:53

Barry - you're right that some sponsors don't appear on the list despite sponsoring schools. But it doesn't inspire confidence in the DfE to monitor sponsors if it can't even keep an accurate list.


David Barry's picture
Fri, 13/06/2014 - 16:47

Barry,

You ask:

"Is there anything in the planning application that gives any clue as to the role being played by the Education Funding Agency (EFA) arm of DfE?"

The form on which the application is made, with all the other documents as supporting documents describes the application as having been made by "Whitehall Park School" through an agent, Jones Lang Lasalle, to whom all council correspondence is to be routed. Which of course strictly leaves it unclear as to who exactly is employing JLL as so far as I can tell "Whitehall Park School" is not a corporate body or "legal person" in the sense that Bellevue Place Education Trust would be. However there is a "supporting document" called a planning statement which has as its first para this:


"Planning Statement

The Applicant

1.1 JONES LANG LASALLE IP, INC. has been appointed by the Education Funding Agency (EFA) and Whitehall Park School, “the Applicant”, with regard to the proposed temporary construction of 3No modular units in association with the sites Primary School use (Class D1) at the former Ashmount School Site, Ashmount Road."

Which, on the face of it, confirms that the EFA are involved in some way.

I should stress that planning law is not my "area." So perhaps my surprise at the lack of precision, in what I assume is a formal legal document, regarding exactly who the applicant is just naivety on my part.

However if any one has the inclination to look at the full planning application the way to find it is by going to the Islington web site here:

http://www.islington.gov.uk/services/planning/planninginisl/plan_interes...

And putting the reference number of the application in the search box, which is:

P2014/1754/FUL

David Barry's picture
Fri, 13/06/2014 - 17:04

Barry, you wrote:

"What I don’t understand is why it is any business of the planning committee what grade Ofsted gave to other schools in the trust!"

It is MADE the business of the planning committee because the planning application contains in support the information about the gradings of other schools. Not actually of other schools run by the Trust but by Bellevue Education Group and Place group. There is a pattern here by the way. Sometimes it is stressed that the school is going to be run by Bellevue Place Education Trust, a not for profit charity, sometimes it is Bellevue Education Group Ltd which is invoked. The distinction between the not for profit and the for profit is blurred all the time.

But anyway it is the applicant who makes an issue of the schools scores, not Islington planning and which makes a claim regarding the gradings given by the Independent Schools Inspectorate which is just not true.

As I was careful to say in my objection:

"under the heading “Educational Vision” a number of points are made relating to the proposed educational offer and the background of the proposers which the applicant clearly regards as relevant to the evaluation of the planning application, as otherwise they would not be included. This makes comments on them also relevant for the committee."

Apart from anything else these (and other) inaccurate statements made as part of the planning application will remain on the internet in their current form, uncorrected and available to search engines, unless queried.

David Barry's picture
Sat, 21/06/2014 - 17:35

The next posting in this series is called:

"So its FINAL then: The latest in the continuing series regarding Whitehall Park School"

and you can see it here:

http://www.localschoolsnetwork.org.uk/2014/06/so-its-final-then-the-late...

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