Empty Woolworths to be used as classroom in School Places Crisis

Guardian

A council in east London is drawing up plans to convert an empty Woolworths store into a classroom and teach children in two shifts as part of emergency measures across Britain to cope with a dramatic increase in primary school age children.

More than 450,000 extra primary age pupils will need places in schools in England by 2015, government figures show – partly the result of a baby boom in the past decade.

Schools have begun using every inch of available space, including converting a caretaker’s hut into a classroom and a broom cupboard into an office, and moving into council-owned office space.

The problem is most acute in London. In Barking, on the outskirts of the city, the number of primary age children is predicted to rise from around 19,000 to more than 27,000 by 2015. In addition to the empty Woolworths, the council is looking into leasing a vacant MFI building.

It is also looking at “split shift sessions”, where schools would operate a double shift – the first from 8am until 2pm and then a second set of children from 2pm until 7pm. The shift system would enable the school to teach twice as many children, although the council concedes it could create havoc for parents trying to work around the new shift patterns.

Rocky Gill, Barking and Dagenham council’s cabinet member for finance and education, said “detailed plans” were being put into place to introduce teaching by shifts. “We need money in the hundreds of millions, not the tens of millions.

“In two years’ time we will have expanded all our primary schools. So we’re going to have no choice but to move into split shift education at both primary and secondary level.”

Gill feared the impact on families with children in different sessions could be “disastrous”.

The demographic pressure is particularly acute in London, fuelled by migration and increasing numbers of people deciding to have their families in the capital rather than move out.

Ripple primary school in Barking, which had four and a half applications for each reception place last year, is in the process of growing from three forms to five in each year after expanding into a nearby council-owned office site. By 2015 the school is expected to have 1,200 pupils, making it one of the biggest primaries in the country.

Initially, the school shared space with office workers. The headteacher, Roger Mitchell, said: “It was interesting sharing the building – we were working in the very best way we possibly could.

“It didn’t really become my school until the end of February, beginning of March last year, when those people finally moved out to new accommodation. It’s nice just to have my school now.”

The school’s expansion was originally allocated a budget of £4.4m but this was halved when the coalition came to power. Mitchell is also seeking an extra £3.2m to fund a permanent solution for the original school site so that 120 reception-aged children will not have to be taught in outdoor huts.

“It’s not nice to have some of your youngest children taught in outside classrooms, they need a proper learning environment – one that’s not too cold in the winter and too hot in the summer,” he said.

While the council’s strategy has been to expand all primary schools where possible, the authority has also been exploring the possibility of using commercial space. “We’ve got an empty MFI building, we’ve got an empty Woolworths, we’re looking at speaking to those freeholders and purchasing that space or leasing it,” Gill said.

Focusing on the needs of individual children becomes a sharper challenge as schools get bigger. Thelma McGorrighan, headteacher of Manor infants’ school, which in September set up another three entry classes at a different site, Manor Longbridge, said: “You have to make your presence felt. Parents have to see you.

“First thing in the morning and at the end of the day, you’re out there with the children – greeting the children, dealing with issues outside, keeping the parents well informed.”

Parental campaigns are springing up against the expansion of existing primaries, driven by concern that standards will slip if schools become too big.

In Haringey, proposals to expand two local schools, Belmont infants’ school and Belmont junior, are encountering resistance. School governors at the infants’ school argue that the plans are “likely to jeopardise a successful school”. Victoria Harwood, a writer whose four-year-old son is a pupil at Belmont infants’ school, said: “It’s a grade 1 Ofsted school. It does well because it’s so small. It’s a small, intimate community school. That would change if it expands. If they try and jam-pack more kids in I’m convinced that standards would drop.”

The shortage of primary school places is a sore point for the government. Last November the education secretary, Michael Gove, confirmed that an extra £500m would be allocated to more than 100 local authorities experiencing “the most severe need”, while in the autumn statement the chancellor, George Osborne, announced a further £600m for local authorities with the greatest pressure on school places. He also announced an extra £600m for free schools.

This prompted Labour to accuse Gove of lavishing money on a “pet project” rather than spending the entire £1.2bn easing the pressure on primaries.

While London faces the greatest challenge, schools around the country are feeling the strain. In Manchester, which will see a predicted rise from just over 37,000 primary school pupils to more than 46,000 by 2015, a headteacher said her schools were “bursting at the seams”.

Lisa Vyas, headteacher of Ladybarn primary school and executive headteacher of Green End primary school, said: “Every single little space is used. We’ve even had to transform a little storage cupboard into the business manager’s office – we are literally flat out for space.

“At the moment, because of the knock on effect of the dinners taking longer to serve, I now can’t provide every child a gym and dance lesson because there’s not enough time in the hall.

“I can’t meet the PE curriculum needs because there’s not enough hours in the day.”

In Leeds, where primary school numbers are projected to increase from around 55,000 to 67,000 over the next four years, a secondary school and sixth form college is expanding into an “all-through” school.

Roundhay school will open a new primary school, catering for ages four to 11, half a mile away on a separate site to be ready for the new school year in September.

Headteacher Neil Clephan said: “This certainly is a pioneering project. There aren’t lots of these around.”

Clephan compared the approach to the prep school system.”It’s a very similar concept in private education if you think about it.

“It gives the ability for staff to work across all age ranges, not to have those artificial boundaries. Who says that 11 is the age of transfer?”

Proof #NPPF harms countryside – precisely what Cameron says should be prevented – Geoffry Lean

Geoffry Lean Telegraph

If you want to see the future – and I wouldn’t really advise it if you want to retain your equanimity – go to ancient Rutland. For the historic market town of Oakham in the heart of England’s smallest county is already suffering the effects of the Government’s controversial planning “reforms”. And they are the exact opposite of what the Prime Minister says he wants to achieve.

Just half a mile south of the centre of the town – complete with castle, butter cross, stocks and a mention in the Domesday Book – planning permission has been given to build a big estate of around 100 houses on fields in a locally defined Area of Particularly Attractive Countryside that were supposedly exempt from development. Despite vigorous local opposition, the plans were approved because they conformed with the draft National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) – even though it is yet to be implemented and ministers have spent the past months redrafting it in response to an enormous public outcry.

Unless ministers produce a drastically different document in the next few weeks, this experience is going to become commonplace throughout the country, not least because – as a report by the Campaign to Protect Rural England (CPRE) will reveal on Monday – the reforms will withdraw a 25-year-old safeguard from more than half of the English landscape. And it will happen despite ministers’ repeated insistence that the reforms will give local people power to control inappropriate development through drawing up their own local plans.

Indeed Oakham, and Rutland as a whole, seem to exemplify what the Government wants local communities to do. Far from exhibiting the “nihilistic selfishness” of trying to “preserve” things in “aspic” – of which planning minister Greg Clark has accused the reforms’ opponents – Oakham has accepted that it should be a focus for future housing growth. Rutland has drawn up a local plan to indicate the most sustainable places for more than 1,000 new homes, including a large area to the north-west of the town.

The plan specifically excluded the area to the south, where the new estate is to be built, as “a classic vale landscape of meadows and fields”. And the Government’s own Planning Inspectorate, after scrutinising the plan, agreed that development on the estate’s site would be “very intrusive and visually detrimental to the existing rural character of the area, the setting of and approach to Oakham, and to the wider landscape of the vale”.

So when the planning application was made, Rutland Council duly rejected it, only for the developer to appeal. After a public inquiry, the council was overruled, with the inspector citing the NPPF’s requirement that more land should be set aside for housing, and its commitment to promoting “sustainable economic growth”.

Yet this is precisely what Mr Cameron says the reforms are designed to prevent, telling the BBC programme Countryfile in an interview last month that the proposed measures would “give communities much more say, much more control”. He added: “Our reforms will make it easier for communities to say ‘we are not going to have a big plonking housing estate landing next to the village, but we would like 10, 20, 30 extra houses, and we would like them built this way, to be built for local people.” Tell that to the good citizens of Oakham.

The Prime Minister went on to stress how he “cared deeply” about the countryside, citing the beauty of his west Oxfordshire constituency and swearing that he “would no more put that at risk than I would put at risk my own family”. But when pressed, he resorts, like all his ministers, to saying that there would be no change to the protection enjoyed by Green Belts, Areas of Outstanding National Beauty, and National Parks.

That is not entirely so. As The Daily Telegraph has revealed, the draft NPPF would make it easier to build on Green Belts and relax National Park safeguards, especially on quarries. But, as the CPRE report shows, the big danger lies outside these specially protected areas.

For a quarter of a century, planners have been obliged to take “the intrinsic character and beauty” of such wider countryside into account. The draft NPPF scraps the safeguard. This will make it much easier to build on the Oakham site, in almost all of the rest of Rutland, and on 55 per cent of England’s rural land. Much-loved areas such as Romney Marsh, the Vale of Pewsey, north-west Dorset, south Somerset, most of Cornwall and Kent’s Garden of England will be substantially more at risk.

Ministers are expected to make big changes to the reforms, but so far do not seem to have grasped this danger to the countryside at large. Mr Cameron should ensure they do.

We completed this report on behalf of the CPRE which we believe shows definitively how weak the ‘safeguards’ of the NPPF are.  Watch this space/

Unesco may put break on Waterloo schemes over World Heritage Site concerns

Building Design

Heritage inspectors claim projects by Chipperfield, Squire and Hopkins would destroy views

Unesco is threatening to delay work on a string of high-profile schemes near London’s Waterloo Station because it is worried they will destroy views from the Palace of Westminster.

In December, a team of inspectors visited the World Heritage Site, which also includes Westminster Abbey and St Margaret’s Church, and is drawing up a report for this summer’s meeting of the World Heritage Committee in St Petersburg.

While Unesco has no statutory powers, it can ultimately remove World Heritage status and planning authorities will be anxious not to upset it.

Its concerns centre on a view from Parliament Square running between Portcullis House and Big Ben to the other side of the river Thames where it says planned redevelopment work could spoil views of the World Heritage Site.

Among the schemes in question is David Chipperfield’s Elizabeth House, which developer Chelsfield is expected to submit to Lambeth Council planners this spring.

Also under threat are Squire & Partners’ Shell Centre and Hopkins’ proposed masterplan for Waterloo station — which is linked to the Elizabeth House scheme. All are part of a prominent redevelopment zone called the Waterloo Opportunity Area which was launched by the London mayor’s office in 2007.

Unesco’s visit was prompted by a report made last summer which raised a number of concerns about the Palace of Westminster site. It said not enough had been done to protect views and, as a result, local planners “should refrain from approving any new development”.

But developers have accused the heritage body of scaremongering. One developer, who asked not to be named, said: “They want to cause a fuss and scare the government in an Olympic year. The heritage protection in place is absolutely adequate.”

Another developer added: “They were talking about a buffer zone a few years ago, which is just mad.”

A Unesco spokesman defended its most recent visit and added that conservation sites were regularly reviewed to ensure safeguarding was adequate.

As part of an attempt to appease Unesco, mayor Boris Johnson has unveiled proposals to protect the views between Portcullis House and Big Ben. A four-week consultation about this view ends next week, but in the consultation document architects and developers are told that any developments within the Waterloo Opportunity Area should be “sensitively designed and be of the highest architectural quality”.

It adds: “Any development that appears in the interval between the Clock Tower and Portcullis House should not compromise a viewer’s ability to appreciate the outstanding universal value of the World Heritage Site.”

Last year Johnson gave his backing to developers working on plans close to London’s four World Heritage Sites, which also include the Tower of London, Kew Gardens and Maritime Greenwich.

He said: “The challenge is to ensure we protect the qualities of the designated sites that make them worthy of international designation, while allowing the city to grow and change around them.”

Chipperfield and Squire & Partners both declined to comment.

Have developers met their Waterloo?

Unesco is concerned that the view from Parliament Square across the Thames towards County Hall will be destroyed by new developments on the skyline.

Shell Centre in London

1 Elizabeth House
David Chipperfield’s planned 25-storey tower on this site will include seven floors of residential while a more classical nine-storey building will be more aligned with County Hall and the Shell Centre. The Chipperfield design replaced the “Three Sisters” by Allies & Morrison which was thrown out by the government following objections by English Heritage and Westminster Council.

2 Waterloo Station
Hopkins is working on a masterplan for the redevelopment of the station, including new platforms for the former Eurostar terminal. This would be funded by commercial development on the site.

3 Shell Centre
Squire & Partners has been asked to help revamp the Shell Centre after developers Canary Wharf and Qatari Diar were asked to draw up proposals for the 2ha surrounding the 27-storey tower. These will include new offices, shops and homes, but planning permission could be as far as three years away.

You should note that the gap between ‘big ben’ and Portcullis house is very narrow and careful massing of buildings should reduce any impact.  If tall buildings were clustered along Waterloo Road and not towards the southern end of York road they would not be seen.  It was the intrusion into this view that killed off the ‘three sisters’ project at appeal.

BBC – Five arrested, Two Cllrs in £10,000 Bribes for Planning Investigation

BBC

Bury Council: Five arrested in bribe probe

Five people have been arrested by Greater Manchester Police investigating allegations two councillors were bribed over a planning application in Bury.

Police said five men aged between 45 and 69 were held on suspicion of corruption in a public office. All five were later released on bail.

Officers have also seized computers and documents from Bury Town Hall.

The force’s Serious Crime Division executed warrants at addresses in Greater Manchester and Lancashire.

Police made the arrests in Altrincham, Greater Manchester; Kersal, Salford; Didsbury, Manchester and Bacup in Lancashire.

Police said arrests were the result of an intelligence-led operation launched in June 2011 into allegations that two councillors on Bury Council accepted bribes in relation to a planning application.

Bury Divisional Commander Ch Supt Jon Rush said: “I recognise this operation will cause some disruption at the council.

“However, the council is co-operating with the investigation and we intend to keep disruption to a minimum.”

The five have been bailed pending further inquiries until a date yet to be confirmed in April, said police.

Machester Evening News reveals the application relates to a single planning application for housing.

Police swooped on Bury town hall and seized a number of computers and documents. Similar items were also recovered from a business in Moston. Both Coun Bibby and Coun Taylor, who have 20 years of experience on the council between them, were arrested in Bacup, Lancashire, by officers from Greater Manchester Police’s Serious Crime Division. Three other men were arrested on suspicion of corruption in a public office after warrants were executed at addresses in Altrincham, Kersal and Didsbury. All five arrested men – who are aged between 45 and 69 – were questioned in police custody yesterday before being bailed last night until a date in April.

Police said that the ‘intelligence-led’ operation into allegations that bribes were accepted in relation to a planning application was launched last June. Chief Supt Jon Rush, Bury’s chief of police, said: “This has been a complex investigation. I recognise this operation will cause some disruption at the council. “However, the council is co-operating with the investigation and we intend to keep disruption to a minimum.”

A council spokesman said: “We are currently assisting police with their ongoing investigation so it would be inappropriate to comment further.” Coun Bibby represents the Church ward and was first elected to the council in 1999. Coun Taylor was first elected in the North Manor ward a year later. Both are due to stand for re-election in 2014. Coun Bibby became leader of the council when the Tories swept to power in Bury in 2008. The party lost overall control two years later. Labour became the largest party and took outright control of the council last May. Coun Bibby subsequently stood down from front line politics. A Conservative Party spokesman said: “It would be inappropriate for us to comment while a police investigation is underway.”

Prestford and Whitefield Guide

According to Cllr Bibby, the allegations centre around a planning application tabled in February, 2011 by a property company.

The application was for 200 homes and a warehouse to be built on land at Bury Road and York Street in Radcliffe.

Cllr Bibby said he was aware of a planning application that might be problematic because the houses would be on or near a flood plain.

Cllr Bibby said police told him they had found text messages alleging that he would take a £10,000 payment in exchange for co-operation with the application. Cllr Bibby strongly denies send ing or receiving any such message.

In April, 2011, members of Bury’s planning committee granted permission, acting on a planning officer’s recommendation, with an order the applicant must adhere to 26 conditions.

Cllr Bibby, who was council leader at that time, said: “I am not in a position to influence planning at all. As council leader, you generally encourage investment in your town and you want companies to come in and clean up grotspots and provide businesses that create jobs and homes for families.

“But when it comes to the details of particular applications, that is not for the council leader.

“That is why developers have pre-application talks with planning officers and why the planning committee makes decisions. To allege that someone would pay £10,000 to one individual in relation to an application is very strange.”

Cuts begin to impact on Application processing Times

Planning resource

Figures reveal increasing hold-ups in planning system

Planning decision-making by local authorities in England is getting slower – with major applications worst hit – according to new government figures.

The statistics, released by the Department for Communities and Local Government today, showed councils deciding a smaller proportion of applications within official time targets.

The number of major decisions decided within 13 weeks dropped to 62 per cent in the year to September 2011, compared with 70 per cent for the year before.

The figure for minor applications fell from 77 per cent within eight weeks to 72 per cent, and 84 per cent of other applications, down from 87 per cent.

The faltering performance of planning departments, which faced big cuts during the period, comes despite a reduction in the overall number of planning applications.

In the year ending September 2011, district level planning authorities received 471,900 applications for planning permission, a decrease of two per cent on the previous year.

Residential decisions decreased by 1 per cent from 50,900 to 50,200 compared with the 12 months to September 2010.

Planning Applications: April to September 2011 (England)

Caroline Spelman refuses to deny #NPPF like plan to slash all environmental policy to 50 pages

Guardian

Caroline Spelman refuses to deny plans to slash environmental regulations

Environment secretary says she was not at the meeting where cuts to red tape were allegedly proposed

The environment secretary, Caroline Spelman, has refused to deny that the Cabinet Office is proposing to rip up of thousands of pages of environmental regulations and guidance as part of the government’s “red tape challenge”. The proposal, revealed by the Guardian, is understood to be led by Oliver Letwin and is causing deep concern among green MPs and campaigners.

It follows the cutting of planning regulation guidance from 1,000 pages to just 50 pages, which sparked a national outcry last year. According to a well-placed source, Letwin allegedly told senior environment officials at a meeting on 12 January that the planning proposals showed how the cutting of guidance could “work very well” and said he wanted the same for environmental regulations.

Under sustained questioning about the proposal from MPs including Caroline Lucas and Zac Goldsmith at a select committee meeting on Wednesday, Spelman said: “I am not in a position to confirm or deny the story. I was not at the meeting.” Goldsmith said Letwin’s proposal was causing “huge concerns”.

Spelman said the Cabinet Office was the lead department on the red tape challenge and it was now considering its response on environmental regulations. Spelman told the environment audit committee that the purpose of the red tape challenge was to reduce the burden of regulation on businesses while preserving the purpose of the regulation.

Lucas said: “I don’t know which is more worrying – the fact that Letwin has reportedly proposed slashing all environmental guidance so it fits into a 50-page document, or that the secretary of state for the environment appears to have had no knowledge of it. If the red tape challenge is to be a genuinely consultative process, the government must listen to what the vast majority of people responding to the consultation are actually saying – that they value laws to uphold environmental protection, and do not want to see them ripped up.”

“Spelman had every opportunity today to deny rumours that the government is planning to tear up the laws that protect our health and environment, and replace them with 50 pages of meaningless guidance,” said Craig Bennett, director of policy and campaigns at Friends of the Earth. “This would be the environmental equivalent of taking the complete works of Shakespeare and summarising it as a tweet.”

At the 12 January meeting, Letwin met senior officials from the Department of the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) along with representatives from the Environment Agency (EA) and Natural England. According to the Guardian’s source, he told officials he wanted all environmental guidance replaced with a single 50-page document just as the government is doing with planning . The proposal was apparently met with “disbelief”.

Defra and the Cabinet Office declined to comment on the meeting but the EA told the Guardian: “The meeting was about simplifying advice to business about environmental regulation and was positive.”

The red tape challenge on environmental regulations included all existing rules including those protecting against air and water pollution, industrial discharges and noise. It also included protection for wildlife, landscapes and recreation. The website states: “We have to make sure that our … environmental regulations are not strangling businesses and individuals with red tape.” It asks visitors, among other questions: “should we scrap them altogether?”

However, according to a Guardian analysis, 97% of the responses expressing an opinion in the “air pollution” and “biodiversity, wildlife management, landscape, countryside and recreation” categories demanded no changes or stronger protection for the environment.

Tom Burke, veteran environmentalist, previous adviser to Conservative environment secretaries, and now working for Rio Tinto, said: “This report [of the Letwin meeting] is consistent with a complete hostility to the environment, based on the misapprehension that the environment regulations get in the way of growth – which they don’t and there is no evidence that they do – and the mistaken belief that the British people want to choose between the two, which they don’t.”

Some business leaders, including Neil Bentley, the deputy director general of the CBI, have also spoken out against environmental deregulation, following attacks on regulations such as the EU habitats directive by the chancellor, George Osborne.

“Environmental regulation doesn’t have to be a burden for business. Framed correctly, environmental goals can help our economic goals – help start new companies and generate new jobs and enrich us all,” he said.

SoS refuses three Aylesbury Vale appeals on ‘open countryside grounds’ #NPPF

These three interlinked recovered appeals are notable on the Major stress the SoS gives to policy from PPS7 on protection of the open countryside, the very policy that the draft NPPF proposes to abolish – but will it remain in the final version?

The site is in Aylesbury Vale district but forms what could have been the far part of what would have been a major urban extension around Leighton Linslade which was being jointly pursued by Central Beds and Luton before they ended the Joint Plan examination.

The SoS found

the appeal scheme would have a harmful effect on the character and appearance of this area of open countryside and, as a consequence, he also agrees with the Inspector (IR472) that it would conflict with Government policy for the countryside in PPS1 and PPS7 as well as with the landscape sustainable policies in the SEP and the LP. Accordingly, the Secretary of State agrees with the Inspector’s conclusion (p. 16).

Their was a lack of a 5 year supply so this was the determinate issue.

On the status of RSS

The Secretary of State considers that the revocation of the Regional Strategies has come a step closer following the enactment of the Localism Act on 15 November 2011. However, until such time as the SEP and the EEP are formally revoked by Order, he has attributed limited weight to their proposed revocation in determining these appeals

The inspector found that

Turning to the HLS issue, the proposed housing development would be in the AVDC area, where there is not a 5-year district wide supply. Thus, a PPS3(71)position prevails. However, this obliges the decision maker to look at PPS3(69)and the criteria embodied therein. When this is done, it is clear that the proposal rests uncomfortably alongside the spatial strategy evinced by the Development Plan, and especially relevant in this context, the disaggregation and rest of district  approach,
where there is well in excess of a 5-year supply of housing land.
The conclusion, therefore, must be that if the appeal site is developed the housing built would count against the CBC allocation as part of the ‘planned’ expansion of Leighton Linslade. As CBC is in the throes of its JCS examination, which should deliver a 5-year supply of readily available housing land, to allow the appeal proposals in advance of the JCS outcome may well prejudice the delivery supported locally by all responsible agencies. Again, this represents a strong reason for resisting this appeal.

However the SoS noted that the JCS had been withdrawn but was being maintained for development control purposes and so gave this issue less weight than the inspector.

Effectively the SoS was backing the Linslade expansion proposal.  It should be noted that it was an additional urban extension needed at Luton and not Leighton Linslade was the issue that led to the joint arrangements breaking down.

A particulrly complex ‘duty to cooperate’ case.