Extension to the school, relocation of external gym area, additional parking and extensions to car park
The Committee considered a report of the Planning Officer with regards to an extension to the school, relocation of external gym area, additional parking and extensions to car park at The Oaks Secondary School, Rock Road, Spennymoor (for copy see file of minutes).
Councillor Maddison, Local Member, confirmed that the report had detailed her representations and that some action had been taken to alleviate her concerns. She referred to traffic issues along Rock Road which had resulted in road markings and the installation of bollards, confirmed that further road markings were still to be completed.
Councillor Maddison confirmed that vehicles transporting children, which were usually minibuses, parked up on Rock Road in advance of the school gates being opened. The vehicles were tailed back to Kirk Merrington and pedestrians had to cross the road between parked cars.
Councillor Maddison had asked Planning Officers to look at car parking arrangements and they had done so, providing an additional ten car parking spaces. She referred to the document which indicated the number of staff attending the school and highlighting that the visitor spaces were occupied by the staff and it was therefore extremely difficult for to park on site.
She continued that there were 140 staff and 73 existing car parking spaces and the proposal would increase this by 42 spaces. This was not enough as staffing was to be increased by 22 leaving a shortfall of spaces. There would also be an increase in large vehicles queuing along rock road due to the increased school capacity. Councillor Maddison referred to the large grassed area between the perimeter fence and the building and asked why that was not considered to be parking provision when the application was below the normal requirement.
Councillor Maddison confirmed that she did not object to the application as this was a good school providing much needed facilities, however she had concerns from residents and local members with regards to the parking on site and the vehicles on the road, that she would like to overcome.
There had been the introduction of a travel plan but when the building was finished and there was additional traffic she asked for a further review to take place to see if there was a possibility to create additional parking spaces.
Councillor Blakey referred to the green area within the school and asked whether consideration had been given to a loading road on the site and Councillor Brown sympathised with the residents and queried the public transport arrangements on Rock Road.
The South and West Planning Team Leader responded to suggestions on additional parking provision and advised that the school needed to be able to operate as a special school with pupil needs and to start removing green space may result in objections from Sport England. He advised that when the application was first approved in 2003 it had 43 spaces which was an over provision at the time. There was a limit to what could be done in terms of additional parking without affecting the way the school operated. With regards to issues off site, it was particularly quieter at this part of Rock Road and issues tended to be further up towards the other primary school, something which was not able to be alleviated by this application.
The Strategic Manager (SEND Strategy, Asses) spoke on behalf of the Applicant and confirmed that the extension was in response to the strategic intention set out by the Council for children and young people with SEND who needed support to stay in education. This was detailed in the High Needs Block report which went to cabinet on 15 January. This had been agreed in order to look at local services rather than the use of high cost, independent provision which was out of county.
The Cabinet further agreed to continue work with Head Teachers in special schools to extend the range in County Durham. He continued that the strategic need was to accommodate a specific group of children with autism which required high levels of staffing. The reason for choosing The Oaks site was that it was a central school and young people attended from all over the County. Most went to the nearest and most appropriate but parental preference had to also be considered and this was a quality school, with Ofsted rated outstanding provision and this guided preference and also decision making, to build on excellence.
Despite challenges with transport this was quite a new provision and there was a large and extensive playing field. It had been considered however was not appropriate due to playing field and green field strategies.
The Principal DM Engineer advised that there were bus routes running around the area, although not directly outside of the school which had been considered with regards to parking provision. The site was just on the periphery of the 800m accessible walking route from the Town Centre, which would have reduced the parking space requirement within the Councils policy. Because it was just outside of the 800m, the Highways Authority had required as many spaces as could be provided. In order to provide more they would have to remove some of the grassed areas that were playing fields and that would create a risk of an objection from Sport England.
The Principal DM Engineer confirmed that they had also considered whether a layover position could be provided and the options which were considered would require removal of green space and would create safety issues. With regards to visitor parking, there would be dedicated visitor bays provided.
The Chair reminded Members that the Committee could not amend the plans they could only consider the application in front of them.
Councillor Tinsley confirmed that the application had been called in on grounds of concerns relating to traffic generation, highways safety, road access, adequacy of parking and road access but there had only been one public representation received and it was neither for or in support or objecting to the proposal and therefore he did not see it was an issue in the local community.
Councillor Jewell advised that as a country we were trying to reduce the use of cars and yet a parking application that was in part driven by additional parking spaces. Also trying to use the planning process to address the taxi vehicles when there were other processes that could
Councilllor Shuttleworth confirmed that this application would benefit all children in County Durham and moved the recommendation for approval, seconded by Councillor Tinsley.
That the application be APPROVED subject to the conditions outlined in the report.