There really cannot be a more unsuitable spot for an infant school than London House, unless it’s actually in the middle of Manor Circus, the traffic-laden, fume-filled roundabout a mere stone’s throw away from it.
Siting a school called Deer Park just 10 metres back from the A316 seems like a twisted joke, with the joke being on the children who will go there. This dual carriageway is a trunk road that Department for Transport figures show 34,000 vehicles use each day. Every morning and afternoon cars, buses and lorries crawl along these four lanes spewing out noxious fumes. And, when they’re not stuck in jams, these vehicles are causing accidents.
The closest pedestrian crossing point over the A316 for this proposed school is at Manor Circus roundabout, next to a petrol station which any child going past will have to negotiate. In the three years to October 2013 there were a total of 15 collisions – three involving pedestrians, three with cyclists, and three involving motorcycles. TFL is already planning changes to this crossing to improve safety, which include shared cycle and pedestrian pavements right outside London house. But these improvements do not take into account the impact that 420 children, plus parents, carers and siblings and upwards of 50 staff attempting to get to school by car, foot, buggy, pram, bicycle, scooter, skateboard or motorcycle, will have. And, we all know that many won’t walk, just like they don’t at any other school, given that lots of parents drop their children off in cars on their way to work.
What about deliveries of food and supplies, or coaches collecting pupils for school trips? The lorries will either have to turn off the A316 at the roundabout – I’m sure councillors will recall that a taxi firm at London house was refused planning permission previously as vehicles would have to turn on and off the A316 – or they will have to block Raleigh Road at the rear.
Round the corner, the other main access road for pupils getting to Deer Park School, Sandycombe Road, is nearly as dangerous. It is currently undergoing consultation by the council to address the “numerous complaints” made by residents “over recent years with regards to vehicle speeds, congestion and reports of collisions”.
It makes you wonder, did the Educational Funding Agency actually visit the site before buying it? Did they do any research into the area at all? Either they did, and they don’t care about pupil safety, or they didn’t, because they don’t care where our children go to school. Which ever it was, councillors should and must care. You have a duty to safeguard the pupils in this borough, and if you approve a school knowingly sited in an accident black spot, then any accidents will be your responsibility.
Which leads me on to the second major problem with turning London House into a school for children aged four to eleven – fumes from all the traffic I’ve just talked about. Manor Circus is not just an accident black spot, it’s also a pollution hotspot. Nitrogen Dioxide and particulates in London’s air are way above permitted levels, killing tens of thousands each year with related illnesses. In Richmond alone, government figures suggest around 77 people a year are killed by air pollution.
More pertinently, two recent academic reports show particulates have a negative impact on children’s health and development. The Centre for Research in Environmental Epidemiology in Barcelona found that pupils at schools with polluted air showed an average improvement in a working memory 4 per cent lower than pupils at schools with clean air.
Columbia University has found that air pollution might be lowering children’s IQ. The researchers followed 276 New York City mums and children from the time the women were pregnant until the kids were seven. The study showed that pregnant mums who were exposed to high levels of airborne polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons – a dangerous compound found in car exhaust fumes – had children who scored significantly lower on tests of full scale IQ, perceptual reasoning, and working memory.
Our own MP, Zac Goldsmith, as part of the Environmental Audit Committee, in a report from December last year says: ‘The Government should… make it impossible to build new schools, care homes or health clinics near existing air pollution hotspots.” The chair of the committee, Joan Walley, MP, said: “Children growing up near busy roads with high NO2 and particle emissions have stunted and impaired lung development. There is also emerging evidence that air pollution can increase infant mortality rates, prompt pre-term births and affect cognitive performance.”
And, finally, the last problem – space. London House does not meet the government’s own guidelines on site size for primary schools, begging the question, where does Bellevue plan to put a playground on the site? On the roof where children can breathe in more deadly fumes? Stirling University has found that children’s health, well-being and capacity to learn is improved by a 15-minute daily run round the playground.
I’ll leave you with the words of one resident, Diana Collins: “Where are the children going to run? Up and down the A316?”