Not only do the Sutton Conservatives appear hopelessly confused over the school sites issue, they apparently enjoy worrying residents unnecessarily, and are quite prepared to use confidential information in order to do so. They have been aided by the Sutton Guardian’s horribly mangled story about Rosehill, which followed the previous week’s speculation that the Croygas Sports Club in Wallington was the preferred site.
To clear matters up here are the facts:
Meeting medium term need on the Sutton Hospital site in Belmont
The Education Department at the council predicted the need for a new secondary school over two years ago, before work on a new Local Plan (Sutton 2031) started. An initial look at sites in the borough capable of delivering a secondary school showed only two possible locations – the ex-Sutton Hospital site at Belmont, and Rosehill Park.
Rosehill Park is Metropolitan Open Land (MOL) and is therefore protected against development except in ‘very special circumstances’. In planning terms this means there must be no alternative non-MOL site.
We were therefore very concerned to learn that the Sutton & Cheam MP Paul Scully declared Rosehill Park the Conservatives’ preferred site, and following that the Government’s Education Funding Department showing an interest in that site.
With a suitable brownfield site available in Belmont it was a very real risk that any secondary school proposed for Rosehill Park would not get planning permission.
The Lib Dem administration therefore agreed that the new secondary school should go on the ex-Sutton Hospital site and started work on making that happen.
The Conservatives either didn’t like or didn’t understand that there are rules and procedures that have to be followed in these matters and instead put out all sorts of misleading claims, including that the site was too small.
The lie in this has been proved with the council ensuring the delivery of the new school by purchasing the site, preparing detailed plans and securing the Harris Federation as the school provider. This all means that there will be school places available for secondary school students when the need arises.
Planning ahead to 2031
The Council’s Local Plan sets out planning policies to manage development in the borough over the next 15 years. It requires a huge amount of evidence and information to predict population numbers and housing and employment need over that period, which then informs the policies and site allocations in the Plan. The first stage of this work setting out the issues the council faces and how they might be addressed was consulted on as ‘Sutton 2031’ earlier this year.
This work showed that over the 15 year period at least two secondary schools will be required. With the site for the first school already secured in Belmont, the Local Plan work helped in identifying a suitable second site.
The Rosehill Park site unsurprisingly remained an option as it had already been identified as of a suitable size for a secondary school. However the consultation feedback on the Local Plan confirmed that borough residents greatly value their parks and open spaces, so that was a double reason to ensure that officers had looked at every possible alternative site before allocating a park for a second school.
Sadly the evidence now shows that there is no alternative brownfield site available, and indeed the only alternatives were other parks.
Less green space lost at Rosehill Park
However, there is some good news, as there has been a change in ownership of the Sports Village, which is located in Rosehill Park, since the original site search. The new owners have indicated that they may be willing to work with the council to ensure the new school is contained within the all-weather pitch and share their facilities which means that there would be less take of green space out of the park than when the site was originally considered.
In the meantime the Conservatives have used leaked evidence-gathering information in order to speculate about other sites like Croygas, that has upset residents and caused harm to local businesses unnecessarily.
The Sutton Lib Dems know that you can’t pick a school site out of a hat, nor are we prepared to lose part of a well-loved park without robust evidence that there is no alternative. And it certainly wasn’t going to be our first choice for a school when a brownfield site, presenting excellent opportunities for our young people due to its co-location with the London Cancer Hub, was available in Belmont.
Next round of consultation
Given the lack of alternative sites for the second school, it is expected that the December Housing, Economy & Business Committee will recommend the allocation of the Rosehill Park site for a secondary school in the draft Local Plan. This draft of the Plan will then go out to public consultation early in 2017 so residents can review the evidence for themselves and feed in their views.