To recap briefly, in 2009, A KCC paper identified an 8% shortage of places in Tunbridge Wells primary schools for 2010 entry, but nothing was done and the county faced a crisis. This was not the first time this had happened in the district. At short notice, KCC was forced to put additional classes into a number of TW primary schools on a temporary basis, including Bishops Down Primary which enlarged from one form of entry to two.
A draft KCC Commissioning Plan, produced in 2011 proposed continued temporary enlargement for two years from 2013 but KCC then decided, on the basis of powerful environmental and traffic reasons to do with the school site, that this could not go ahead.
A parent took KCC to the Schools Adjudicator arguing that the reduction was illegal and the Adjudicator upheld the complaint, ordering KCC to reinstate the intake of 60. KCC refused to accept this direction on the grounds that it could not carry out the enlargement, for traffic access and environmental reasons, but then backed down and applied for planning permission in January 2013, on the alleged expectation this would not be approved. Somehow, the planning application requested was never heard, and in March 2013, KCC offered just 30 places, but put another 30 children on a waiting list to be offered places if the enlargement was approved.
A fresh proposal for permanent expansion was then put forward, due to be considered at a planning meeting in June to meet the future demand, but was withdrawn at the last moment. It is reliably reported that this was because it made use of a private road belonging to Rose Hill private school to give additional access, although KCC believed it to be a public road. As the two schools are in direct competition for pupils, and the new access to Bishops Down would reduce the freedom to get to Rose Hill for its pupils, its hardly surprising that the owners refused permission for their access road to be used in this way. A short-term solution for the children on the waiting list was agreed by creating an additional classroom from an internal rearrangement of rooms, which did not require planning permission, and the 30 additional children were all offered places at the school.
On 11th September last a fresh planning application was heard for premises at Bishops Down Primary, which sets out the future plans for the school, with the full backing of KCC
The application itself was for renewal of the temporary planning permission for the double mobile installed in 2010 to meet the temporary enlargement, for the next three years.
The paperwork confirms from the first time that KCC plans to keep the Planned Admission Number (PAN) at 60 from September 2014 onwards, and will submit a planning application for permanent accommodation sometime in the future when the mobile will be removed. This will need to be for at least five classrooms.
A minor point, but why did KCC allow the previous permission to expire on 12th July, with the new permission not likely until 15th September? Surely there should have been continuity.
The planning request states: “In addition, staff and pupil numbers would not increase as a result of the further retention of the mobile unit as the accommodation is required to continue to provide teaching accommodation for existing pupils already at the school”. I don’t understand this, as after the current additional 30 pupils arrived in Reception this September, there were four additional classes in Years R,1,2, and 3 using one original classroom and three new ones. With another 30 children arriving in 2014 and subsequent years numbers must increase if the new permanent accommodation is not built by September 20144.
The powerful case that KCC had put forward in 2012 to argue that it was impossible to expand provision, citing the limited access, pressure on road traffic in the area, established woodland, parking and other issues created a furore countered by considerable opposition from local residents. It is therefore surprising that all these arguments are now redundant and that, as distinct from 2012, there now appears little opposition to the temporary proposal which actually changes nothing in building terms.
What will happen with a new plan for a four class permanent building to meet the expansion is anyone's guess. I am told that KCC planners are now considering access from a different side, but this looks prohibitively expensive and would involve a road through a public wood. One can see that this will attract a great deal more expansion and controversy.
In conclusion, this has all come about because one parent objected through the Schools Adjudicator to the school being reduced in intake from 60 to 30, at a time of extreme pressure on Tunbridge Wells school places. Just one year later, KCC has confirmed it can manage the higher figure after initially claiming that the original judgement was flawed as it was impossible to deliver. Local parents have much to be grateful to that objector, who has made finding a local school place in that part of Tunbridge Wells so much easier. Other local residents may have a different view!