A dual carriageway is no place for a school

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.

Local residents fume over air pollution

Local residents fume over air pollution

I’ll leave you with the words of one resident, Diana Collins: “Where are the children going to run? Up and down the A316?”

NHS, Housing and Schools – solving the crises

I finally caught up with the leaders debate last night. Watching it without the hype of a live broadcast exposed the tropes that each of the main party trots out, as they have for the last 20 or so years :

  • The Tories say you can’t trust Labour because they’re tax and spend.
  • Labour says Tories are all cut, cut, cut.
  • While Nick Clegg actually said ‘we would cut less than the Tories and tax less than Labour’! You can’t make it up.

I didn’t think Leanne Woods came off as badly or Nicola Sturgeon seem as wonderful as the polls suggested, while sadly Natalie Bennett didn’t have much chance to shine, although she managed to get some key policies across.

Worst of all was Farage who, at the very least, exposed him and UKIP for what they really want – to take us out of the EU. And this, when they have 24 MEPS – the hypocrisy of a party funded by the very institution it wants to leave knows no bounds.

What I would say about UKIP is that they’re very good in defining the problems besetting the British people, while blaming the wrong causes (migrants) and suggesting poor solutions (leaving the EU).

1 Housing – UKIP says the pressure on housing is because of immigration.

NO. The strain on housing is caused by Right to Buy which has taken council houses away from the poorest in this country, and have not been replaced as promised. On top of this not enough homes have been built to meet demand, instead, this Coalition government has put house prices up by guaranteeing mortgages with their ‘Help to Buy’ scheme. Plus, giving landlords tax relief on the interest on their mortgages has just helped private investors and inflated prices up while taking these properties out of the reach of first time buyers.

Solution – build council homes. Allow councils to borrow money so they buy land and properties on which to put social rented homes. Build on brown field. Stop developers riding roughshod over councils in their pursuit of profits by letting them buy their way out of providing ‘affordable homes’ within their developments. Remove the tax relief for landlords, and change tenancies from 6 months/1 year to 2/3 years, so that tenants have more security and rental costs don’t keep being put up every time the contract is renewed.

2 Schools – UKIP says the pressure on school places is because of immigration.

NO. The squeeze on school places is caused by local councils being so strapped for cash they haven’t been able to invest in the land or property that becomes available in their area so they’ve sold it off to developers instead, so creating further demand down the line. And, now under the Coalition, the Free School fiasco ensures councils have no controls over where and when schools are created, as they are reliant on Academy Trusts putting in bids to the Department for Education and then the Education Funding Agency buying a site, within its limited budget, appropriate or otherwise.

Solution – give councils back the ability to buy land and property as needed for schools and the funds to do it with. Only when local authorities can buy land or brownfield sites in their areas to do with as required, whether it’s for schools, homes or health centres will the problems our communities face over lack of infrastructure be properly dealt with.

3 NHS – UKIP says the pressure on doctor’s appointments and our NHS is because of too many migrants coming to the UK for our health service.

NO. Labour introduced market forces into the NHS, which have added been to by the Tories in the Coalition government. Plus, changes in GPs contracts under labour allowed them to stop providing out-of-hours care – while paying themselves more at the same time – which then forced more people to go to their local A&E rather than their local surgery.

Solution – keep the NHS free at the point of access, tax the top 1% wealthiest in the UK to raise around £21 billion to pay for it and reform GPs contracts so the out-of-hours care is not forced on to local hospitals instead.

Gove had to go – he ran the DfE as a fiefdom

I actually met Michael Gove a couple of years back at a party held by a mutual friend. We ended up discussing the fact that my local area, Kingston, desperately needed a new secondary school and that an application for a Free School was with the Department of Education for approval. His parting words were ‘I’ll see what I can do‘.

A few months later, the school was in fact approved. Now, I don’t know if Michael did actually make good on his “promise”, but the fact the Secretary of State for Education has final say over whether a school opens or not, is wrong. How does the person holding that role know if the area really needs a school. S/he is unlikely to be be the MP for that constituency, so they are relying on the application in front of them for the facts rather than personal knowledge. And, facts can be written up to make the case for the company, group or consortium aiming to set up the Free School. This is why the situation is now arising of schools being approved where there’s no need for them, while other parts of the same borough are struggling to find places for their children.

The decision of where to open a new school needs to be put back in Council hands so communities and councillors can work together to get the educational establishments local people need.

However, that doesn’t mean the council needs to ‘run’ the school. As a governor of a school that is now an academy, I do believe that if a school has a good head and a strong Governing Body then being “outside” of council control can be a positive. But, heads can be tyrants at worst or benevolent dictators at best, and can leave. Meanwhile, Governing Bodies are, more often than not, run by people with little experience of education but much enthusiasm. Unless the governors are very dedicated and take up the training on offer, while giving a lot of their spare time to scrutinising the endless documents that are part and parcel of that role, as well as challenging the head, then it’s all too easy for them to pay lip service what’s put in front of them until the results come out and, disaster, the school is failing the children.

Then, who do the parents turn to? The Governing Body? And, if they’re part of the reason for the poor teaching. who’s next? The Department for Education and the Secretary of State for Education. Again, I say, how can the person holding this post be responsible for ensuring all schools in this country are doing the best for every single child? S/he cannot.

Schools need to be part of the local councils’ remit so parents/carers have someone to turn to rather than central government.