EXPANSION PLAN: Anxiety over plan for Cheswick Green Primary
Plans to double the size of a Solihull school have moved to the next stage, despite fears it would bring “absolute chaos” to village roads.
More than 120 residents have responded to proposals to expand Cheswick Green Primary, with concerns about traffic and parking emerging “overwhelmingly” as the main worry.
Neighbours, community groups and councillors voiced doubts during a six-week consultation, which ran towards the end of last year.
Education chiefs have pledged to look at the transport issue but argue that alternatives put forward to cater for a growing population had already been explored and ruled out.
This week it was agreed to move forward with a second statutory consultation in the coming weeks, with the chance that a final decision on the scheme could be made in March.
Although the cabinet member has said the council had to “get it right” when it came to local roads, alluding to the fact that another school expansion near Solihull town centre was refused planning permission last February on parking grounds.
Many residents have argued that streets were already under immense strain, in a village which has doubled in size in recent years.
A retired teacher, who has lived there for 40 years, was among those to make a written objection and said they were “deeply disturbed” by the thought of more than 100 cars descending during peak periods.
“Prior to ‘lockdown’ it was not uncommon for queues in excess of 1,000 metres to develop along Creynolds Lane – very many there following the school drop-off.”
Cllr Jean Hamilton, the Green Party’s education spokeswoman, said: “I know [the traffic] is only for a short while in the morning and afternoon but it doesn’t make life any easier for the people living there impacted…”
She was also concerned that forcing families – who lived up to two miles away – to drive to the site would “fly in the face” of council promises to confront the climate emergency.
Cllr Tim Hodgson (Green, Shirley West) had also warned that poor public transport and a lack of walking routes from Blythe Valley would mean the vast majority driving in and risked “absolute chaos”.
Cheswick Green Residents’ Association said: “A doubling of school capacity would inevitably lead to further traffic congestion in the immediate area.
“Not only would this be bad for children’s health, but it would also impact on safety.”
The association claimed that the village had been used as a “dumping ground” for new homes and was among those to endorse building a brand-new school at the Blythe Valley development.
It said that a survey of 237 people, conducted by the group in 2016, suggested that around 85 per cent of residents preferred this solution.
Although Cllr Ken Meeson, cabinet member for children, education and skills, said that a previous proposal to build a school to serve the new-build estate had in fact been shot down.
“There was a proposal from an academy trust to put a school [there] and that was refused by the DfE (Department for Education) in London, so that’s not really an option that’s open to us, even if we had the necessary funding at this stage.”
Other options for meeting the needs of new housing by expanding either Hockley Heath Academy or St Patrick’s, at Earlswood, have also been discounted.
Ann Pearson, from the council’s schools team, said that the Cheswick Green site was seen as the best option in terms of the space available.
She said transport was “the key issue” to come forward and there would be work to resolve any problems, with school buses, improved access and a “park and stride” scheme among the options on the table.
“We do have a statutory duty and in order to deliver those places, there is no doubt about it the community will want to see some kind of redress or mitigation on parking,” she said.
Cllr Meeson last night approved the next consultation, the dates of which will be confirmed in due course, but said he would “really want to see detail” on parking when the next report was brought back to him.
He argued it was important to avoid a repeat of the issues which scuppered a separate expansion plan at St Augustine’s Primary last year.
Words: David Irwin, Local Democracy Reporter
Watch the channel on TV