Schools Public Exhibition 

Members of the committee attended the public exhibition at the Hilton Hotel on 4th December 2018 to look at proposals for two new schools, one a 420 pupil primary, with an additional 26 nursery places, and the other a school for 140 autistic children aged 11-18, planned to be built on Bearsted Road next to the new Cygnet hospital for mental health services.

The site is allocated as green space in the Local Plan.

Despite a plethora of people (including planning consultants, transport planners, landscape designers and representatives from Leigh Academies Trust, the organisation based in Rochester which will run the schools), to describe the plans, we were dismayed at the lack of serious thought applied to the proposals, particularly with regard to access arrangements.

Further details and comments are given below. We will, of course, be studying the planning application when it is submitted, but in the meantime you may be assured that our concerns are shared by Bearsted, Thurnham and Detling, and Boxley ward councillors who are taking the lead on this issue.

Although the proposal is situated within Boxley Parish it will have a serious impact on our parishes and we would strongly recommend you send your concerns to your own County and Borough Councillors ~

If you have contacts living in Boxley or Detling please ask them to visit this page of the Society's website so that they can send their comments.

For Bearsted Ward ~

Paul Carter      Denis Spooner      Val Springett      Mike Cuming

For Detling and Thurnham Ward ~

Shellina Prendergast      Nick de Wiggondene-Sheppard

For Boxley Ward ~

Bob Hinder      Wendy Hinder

For further details on the two schools please visit the Leigh Academies Trust, where you will see that they are already seeking applications from prospective parents and staff ~

Bearsted Primary Academy      Snowfields Academy

 Given the ridiculous amount of housebuilding taking place in the borough there is absolutely no doubt that a new primary school is required. However, there is also no doubt that this is quite the wrong location. In fact, it is hard to imagine a more dangerous place to build a school catering for 420 children, the youngest of whom will be four years old, the 26 nursery age children will be even younger.

Parking for Gidds Pond Cottages would apparently be moved to the KIMS site. However, when pressed about the strength of this proposal the answer was that this was still under discussion.

The extraordinary assumption that no fewer than 40% of the junior school children would walk to school and that heavy reliance was being placed on “absences, siblings and lift sharing” was risible, especially as a mere 35 parking spaces would be allocated for parents/carers to “park and stride”. 130 trips are apparently expected during each peak. Exactly how it was envisaged that parents would really walk their children, particularly from the Bearsted direction, crossing the road at least three times in the process alongside a road which is 40 mph in parts, but is already heavily backed up in the mornings, even more so when the M20 is blocked, is truly remarkable. Apparently the only available access is from Bearsted Road, not via the roundabout to KIMS and the Cygnet Hospital. Any traffic from the Bearsted direction therefore would have to turn right into the site (the transport planner suggested that it might be possible to provide an additional lane for three cars waiting to make this turn). Any traffic exiting the site wishing to turn right would be at the mercy of not only passing eastbound traffic, but also those waiting to turn right into the site.

Even with a half hour difference in starting and finishing times for the two schools it is difficult to imagine how this proposal could possibly work. For example, how might emergency vehicles break through the inevitable traffic jams on this narrow road? Yet another assumption made was that there would just be two sessions of arrivals and departures each day. What about staff vehicles, not to mention special events such as nativity plays, special assemblies, parents’ evenings and sports day?

The Transport Planner was asked if he had experienced trying to navigate the Landway at school drop off and pick up times, bearing in mind the two schools there are situated within a residential area, but the response was he didn’t even know where it was. He was also unable to advise where he had assumed the children attending the school would be living, which is a fundamental requirement to determine the volumes of additional traffic in the area, as well as determining the likelihood that they might walk! He was also asked which schools had been used on which to base this transport model but unfortunately he couldn’t remember.

A further issue is that apparently the football pitch would be available for community use. No mention was made of floodlighting in the foreground of the Kent Downs Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty but it is hard to see how this facility could be used outside regular school hours in the winter without it. This would therefore generate more traffic as players and coaches arrive and leave.

A fleet of minibuses/taxis are expected to transport the SEN children each day.

Due to open in September 2020, this means that if these proposals receive planning permission then development work will commence whilst the Bearsted Road/A249 works are under way.

One of the more bizarre aspects of the exhibition was the statement that the primary school would be following a “Forest School” ethos. When questioned about the location of woodland to provide this type of natural environment, we were told that teachers would organise Forest School type activities in a 15m wide rectangle on the north and east sides of the site, with a small band in the south eastern corner, which might apparently have to be surrendered in order to widen access to the site. Pictures showed newly planted trees significantly shorter than the children!

However, one of the Forest School Community’s principles is

“FS takes place in a woodland or natural environment to support the development of a relationship between the learner and the natural world”.

We were told that a planning application is expected to be with Maidstone Borough Council by the end of December, yet the public consultation ended on 10th December, leaving just over two weeks, which include the Christmas period, to assimilate comments and amend the plans accordingly. Clearly very few comments were expected.