The following articles and letter are from the January 2019 edition of Downs Mail

Concern over plan for schools on busy road

PLANS for two new schools at the Kent Medical Campus (KMC) near M20 junction seven have been met with a public backlash.

Concerns hinge on the choice of access point on the busy Bearsted Road, rather than the expected approach road within the KMC site.

Now the Leigh Academies’ Trust, which will run the primary and special needs schools, Department for Education, the developers and planning firm have been asked to ditch the proposed entrance or to find another site.

Notwithstanding concerns about the schools’ proximity to a hospital for mentally-ill criminals, residents and local representatives are unsure it was ever the right location.

Whilst the facilities at the schools were given the thumbs up by locals, who agree there is a desperate need for extra primary places, access will be key. Bearsted villager Madeleine Schopman said: “The traffic is terrible. The access point isn’t going to work. I didn’t think the school was going to be built once they found out there was a mental hospital next door.”

Rev John Corbyn said: “No child will be able to walk to that site...I’ve never been convinced it was the right place for a school.”

Despite being a joint signatory on a media release when the KMC site was announced back in June, MP Helen Whately, said: “I have fought to get the schools. I haven’t fought for them to be located there – that’s the only site identified. Have the residents who have contacted you (Downs Mail) suggested somewhere else that’s realistic? And do any of them have children under four?”

A Kent Medical Campus spokesman said: “It is our understanding that a single access was the most appropriate option for the school, in order for it to keep its pupils separate from the businesses on the campus.”

There is no access to the site via KMC because of planning consents, he said.

Leigh Academies’ Trust deputy CEO Neil Willis said: “I believe the entrance is in the best location of the site we have been given.”

‘Entrance is best option’

THE trust behind the new schools near M20 J7, site owners, the planners and the local MP have sought to reassure the public the site is fit for purpose, despite loud objections.

A spokesman for Kent Medical Campus said: “We have worked closely with the Department for Education in developing the
plans for a new primary and SEN school on land at Popes Field, which is adjacent to KMC.

“It is our understanding that a single access was the most appropriate option for the school, in order for it to keep its pupils separate from the businesses on the campus.

“Kent Medical Campus has outline planning permission for 98,000m2 (1,000,000ft2) of class A1, B1, C2 and D1 commercial space.

“Care UK will be the operator of the care home – planning permission secured from MBC. And MBC has plans to deliver an innovation centre on the site.

“The land identified by residents as a possible alternative access point has planning consent for employment and medical use as part of the KMC enterprise zone.”

At a public exhibition at the Hilton Hotel in Maidstone on December 4, Leigh Academies’ Trust deputy CEO Neil Willis was unable to say he was sure the Bearsted Road entrance would work.

When pressed, he said: “I believe the entrance is in the best location of the site we have been given.”

Asked if the entrance will be fit for purpose, Simon Moon of DHA replied: “Yes, absolutely.”

MP Helen Whately, who fought for the schools to be sited at KMC, said: “I have spoken to the school asking for assurance that they will enable and encourage walking to school, which I think is really important for health as well as reducing traffic.

“My view is that the academy and KCC will need to address concerns about access and try to resolve them.”

Schools access ‘won’t work’

ACCESS into the proposed site of two new schools near junction seven of the M20 is proving to be a major turn-off for local residents.

A scheme for a primary and special needs school will have the busy and often gridlocked Bearsted Road as its entrance and exit.

Residents have expressed concerns over plans made public by the group behind it, which comprises the Leigh Academies’ Trust, Department for Education, planning consultants and Surrey-based PR firm for the builders, Stonyrock. The delegation claimed the KMC site was the only viable option identified from a list of 26, with all the others not meeting criteria. A planning application was expected to have been lodged by Downs Mail’s publication.

The scheme’s backers staged a consultation exercise in early December to convince locals and take feedback.

The public response was clear – that local people, borough and parish councillors and even the clergy are far from sold on the plan.

Most were concerned the access is not through the KMC site but the busy Bearsted Road.

The school delegation claimed it had proved impossible to secure access through KMC land, as it has different levels of planning consent.

Residents are worried that a massive building programme by Liberal Democrat-led Maidstone Borough Council, the latest of which is at the Maidstone Studios, is already putting too much pressure on roads.

Now the science college at New Cut Road is set to increase the number of cars even further when it opens.

Speaking at a public exhibition, Mary Hannant, of Grove Green, said: “It’s a good school and great facilities, but it’s a dangerous road. It is not the right location.”

Her husband Stephen said: “In my job, I drove well over a million miles, but never have I seen such a cock-up as the one in Maidstone.”

Bearsted villager Madeleine Schopman said: “I cannot believe they are going to put a school anywhere near Bearsted Road, the traffic is terrible at the best of times. The access point just isn’t going to work. I didn’t think the school was even going to be built once they found out there was a mental hospital next door, and even with that they kept it all very secretive. We do need new schools, but the location is just not right as there is no proper access.

“It’s a struggle to even get out of my road because of the traffic, I can’t imagine how it will be with two schools there, as well.”

Rev John Corbyn said: “No child will be able to walk to that site, they’ll have to be driven. By the nature of the special needs children, they’ll be coming in from further afield. I’ve never been convinced it was the right place for a school.”

Stonyrock executive, Rebecca Darling, said: “We are hearing what people are saying loud and clear.”

Barracks a better site, says councillor

DENIS Spooner, borough councillor for Bearsted, said: “It is called the Bearsted Primary Academy but it is not really a Bearsted school, is it? It’s a school serving Grove Green, Vinters Park and north Maidstone.

“I can understand why there are concerns about the site’s connectivity and accessibility to its catchment area. I cannot see why any parent would let their kids walk to school along the Bearsted Road. It is far too dangerous.

“A community school should be surrounded by the housing estates whose children will use the school.

“Perhaps a better place to look for a site would be the Invicta Barracks site, for instance, which will better serve the people who will be using it.”

Facts At A Glance

The schools – Bearsted Primary Academy and Snowfields Academy - will be run by the Leigh Academies’ Trust (LAT), based in Rochester, which will have a total of 23 other schools on its books by January;

When both schools are up and running, there will be 120 SEN pupils and 420 primary students;

The site is on the Kent Medical Campus site at Pope’s Field immediately beside the low security, 65-bed private mental hospital, which houses some mentally ill criminals and people with borderline personality disorders.

Concern over school plans

BOXLEY Parish Council members and residents have expressed deep misgivings about the proposed entrance to two new schools on the Kent Medical Campus site near Grove Green.

The site at Pope’s Field would be accessed via the busy Bearsted Road, near the newly-built mental health facility.

Many had hoped that the new primary and special educational needs (SEN) schools would be linked to the internal KMC road system.

At a packed parish meeting on December 3, a delegation from the Leigh Academies’ Trust (LAT), the Department for Education and planners were left in little doubt what local people felt.

Councillors and residents expressed fears for children’s safety, concerns about crossing points, traffic volumes at peak times and speeding.

They also strongly doubted the applicant’s belief that some parents or carers would walk children to the primary school from Bearsted, a trip that would involve crossing the busy unlit roads of Ware Street and Bearsted Road at various points as existing footways were staggered.

Footpaths – including the one at the Gidds Pond Cottages pinch point – would be widened. But the line of parked cars at the houses will remain and pushed further into the road, with the likelihood that there will be an increase in the current damage reports to residents’ cars caused by other road users trying to squeeze through the narrowed area. A speed limit of 30mph would be imposed.

When fully up and running, the two-storey building will house 540 pupils, with an estimated 65 members of staff, say LAT. There are 85 main car park spaces and 35 pickup and dropping off slots for cars and mini-buses planned in the scheme.

A representative of the Department for Education, Melanie Burnham, said that there was an urgent need for schools but this was the only site available and she acknowledged that it was not ideal.

Later in the meeting, it was pointed out to her that the 1,700 residential development proposed for Detling Hill included a primary school and that application had already been submitted.

We understand that the school planning application was due to be submitted by the end of December.

Appealing directly to the audience, Cllr Wendy Hinder: “I have your concerns. I feel the same as you. But they are trying to provide school places that we urgently need.”

Addressing the school delegation, she “beseeched” a re-think, adding: “I have young grandchildren and I wouldn’t want them walking along that road.”

The parish council is seeking a meeting with Kent County Council’s principal transport and development planner Brendan Wright to discuss local concerns about Bearsted Road.

Visiting from Bearsted Parish Council, Cllr Fabienne Hughes offered to take the delegates on a tour to show how local primary schools currently cope with high volumes of traffic.

Many local people accept the need for new schools and residents have been impressed by the facilities – which include two play areas, sports pitch, poly-tunnel and a mini-amphitheatre – proposed for the students.

LAT hopes to provide training to its 140 SEN pupils in local businesses and horticulture to help them gain future employment.

Start times for the schools will be staggered to minimise congestion, say the applicants but Weavering Heath resident Ian Stuart questioned whether planners from local firm DHA had a contingency in case this policy failed due to traffic. DHA claims the system will work and can absorb the extra traffic.

School access concerning

WHILST we welcome the plans for two new schools to serve the north Maidstone area, we have concerns about the proposed location on Popes Field, next to the Cygnet mental health hospital at the Kent Medical Campus.

Access for children to walk to these schools is far from satisfactory as the site is some distance from its main catchment areas to the south and west and is separated from them by Bearsted Road – a narrow, two-lane, road leading to M20 J7. It is frequently grid-locked at peak times. A far higher proportion of children will, therefore, be driven to the schools rather than risk walking.

The traffic implications are worrying. With 420 pupils at the primary school plus 120 at the SEN secondary school, many of whom will be travelling from all over Kent, the volume of traffic generated will have a major impact on Bearsted Road.

The proposed access to the schools is via a single entrance from Bearsted Road into a parking area with just 35 parking spaces for parents! It is anticipated that 13 minibus parking spaces provided for the SEN school will be available for parents, we still consider this vastly inadequate. It will undoubtedly lead to parking on Bearsted Road, narrowing it to a single lane. We also consider the expectation that 40% of pupils will walk to school to be very over-optimistic.

We have made our concerns in writing to Kent Highways and urge the Department for Education to either find a more appropriate location for these schools to the north of Maidstone or to amend their proposals to provide road access to the new schools via the New Cut roundabout and the Kent Medical Campus access road.

Although the volume of traffic the school will generate would remain the same, it would remove the congestion and danger to pedestrians that will be caused by a single access on Bearsted Road.

MBC councillors Val Springett, Denis Spooner, Mike Cuming, Nick de Wiggondene-Sheppard, Bob Hinder and Wendy Hinder; Anne Brindle, Boxley