Last Wednesday (18th January) myself and UKIP Hillingdon campaign secretary Geoff Courtenay attended a meeting at the Botwell Social Centre Hall in Hayes regarding the proposal of Hillingdon council to build a new school on Lake Farm Country Park in Hayes.
The meeting was organised by local MP John McDonnell in response to a story run in the Gazette by James Cracknell back in August, and a piece in the council paper ‘Hillingdon People’.
On the Gazette website on August 1st, James reported –
Demand for primary class places in the borough has reduced – But Hillingdon Council has still agreed to build a new school on green belt land in Hayes.
At a cabinet meeting on Thursday (28) the Tory-led council agreed to the idea of a new primary school at Lake Farm, after claiming it had little other alternative sites.
In fact,no other site for the new school was considered at the meeting.Now the idea has been given approval, designs will be drawn up and a planning bid submitted.
Updated pupil forecasts show that 26 additional forms of entry- or classes – were needed for the borough, a reduction from the 32 previously forecast.It means only two new schools are likely to be built, instead of four. The other is at RAF Uxbridge.
Council Leader, Ray Puddifoot (Con, Ickenham), explained the reasons why a five hectare site in Botwell Lane, opposite Lake Farm Country park, was chosen. He said “Across London we are having to deal with a huge rise in the number of primary school children.”
“We are identifying sites where places are needed . If there is more demand in Hayes for schools we are not going to build one in West Drayton. We will put the classrooms where the children are.”
Earlier, Mr Puddifoot had given a promise that green belt land in Hillingdon would not come under threat from the decision. “I can give a categoric assurance that under this administration we will never see a threat to the green belt”
He said suggestions by the opposition Labour Group on the council, that a school could be built on a derelict coal yard instead, were not feasible. “We will not put children in that environment” he said.
The report agreed by councillors stated that ‘There are no suitable brownfield sites available in the necessary location’. Instead,it suggested using a get out clause to allow building on the green belt.
‘A special circumstances argument could be made for the Lake Farm site. The design of the school would need to minimise its impact on the openness of the adjoining green belt land. This limits the size of the school to the smallest required to address the shortfall.’
‘There would also need to be extensive landscaping to integrate the school in to the country park location’
Sound decision making or a flawed plan for environmental vandalism?
Around fifty to seventy people packed in to the hall to hear John McDonnell discuss the issue and what action needs to be taken. Five councillors were also in attendance,including Labour Group leader Mo Khursheed and Janet Duncan, who impressed me before in her attempts to stop the council building on the Glenister Estate covenant land.
John pointed out pretty early on that standard protocol had not been followed with this proposal – Under current rules, the council have to put forward a formal consultation on construction of this nature.(Although new rules are going through under the Localism Bill which will change this aspect). The only details of what has been going on have been via the two articles printed by the Gazette and in the council paper.
Also,planning application has to be submitted and local residents need to be involved and asked their opinions on the matter. It was pointed out by some of the public attending the meeting that small test drilling has already been observed at the site to ascertain construction issues, and that it would be perfectly possible for the council to slip through their own approval of the plans – After all,it will be a council planning committee scrutinising the council’s own plans!
The subject of alternative sites also came up, with the old swimming pool site in Botwell Lane and the EMI building suggested as brown field sites that could be used. The new leisure centre opposite the pool was built on the old Botwell green, so the idea of using this land to preserve existing green belt was popular in the room. Unfortunately, it was pointed out that this site may well already be earmarked for yet more housing in an already overcrowded part of Hayes. Either way, there was a general consensus that there are plenty of suitable brown field sites if a school is really needed, and the suggestion of the council that Lake Farm is the only alternative is,at best, hasty. It was also suggested that the idea of building on Lake Farm may be down to cost, with the council outlay being less to build on virgin land than redeveloping an existing derelict site – A very short term attitude to take.
Many also commented on congestion in the area of Lake Farm – The infrastructure is struggling at the moment without even more traffic that will inevitably be caused by the proposed development.
Need for a new school or council tactical move?
Another point that caused a lot of discussion was how accurate the council’s assertion that more school places are needed actually is. Just two years ago, Hillingdon council discussed the possibility of closing down Mellow Lane school due to over capacity – Now,they are talking of building new schools to cope with an increase in numbers!
New schools had been built before, then closed down – Geoff Courtenay raised the subject of Townmead School which was built in 1958 (On green belt land!) and has since been demolished. Rather than reverting the land to green belt and landscaping it, the council instead has built a housing estate on it. Could Lake Farm become a source of deja vu in this respect if numbers tail off? Likewise, Townfield was also built and then closed down when birth rates declined.
Other precedents which seem to refute Cllr Puddifoot’s assertion that the council ‘will never see a threat to the green belt’ are Sidmouth Drive in Ruislip (Green Belt that became a school) and the Hillingdon Circus Green Belt at the top of Long Lane – This became The Master Brewer Hotel when it was decided that the area was in drastic need of such amenities ahead of conservation land,and is now being eyed up for a new supermarket after demolition of the hotel rather than being returned to its previous status.
Background to the need for school places
So what has caused this sudden about turn from Hillingdon Council from closing down schools that are ‘excess capacity’ to the rush to develop on green belt land as a priority?
Council leader Puddifoot was quoted way back in November 2010 as stating that the need for new schools has been caused not by a massive upsurge in birth rate in the local community, but by mass immigration. He told The Eastcote Open Forum that “It is a major problem for us but it is not because more houses are being built,but because of immigration to London”
The issue now,of course, is that not only is mass immigration continuing (A 252,000 increase in UK population last year alone) but large areas of Hayes are becoming a building site, triggering further population increases and therefore further need for school places. Hayes FC in Church Road has been turned in to a major housing development, Glenister estate is due to be built on and many small and medium developments are dotted all over parts of Hayes.
Back in 2010,a report quoted in the local press showed that the number of children up to two years old had risen by 26.4 per cent in the south of the borough below the A40 (Compared to just 0.8 % in the borough North of the A40) since 2001 – Hence Mr Puddifoot’s quotes about ‘putting schools where the children are’ Whilst I can see the logic in this, why is the dwindling amount of green area being targetted rather than the sites mentioned at the meeting convened by John McDonnell?
Where now to save our green spaces?
If Hillingdon Council get away with this cavalier attitude towards new development with minimal consultation, then Lake Farm will just be the start. Emboldened, they may use similar tactics to come back and try and build on Hayes Park (left), an area that has already been mooted as a site of possible new housing.
More affordable housing is needed for the local population, but under current government rules on housing by ‘need’ it will not be local people getting first priority on any new construction going up.
UKIP policy on this is clear – New development should be directed to brown field sites and the localism bill’s right to build on green belt needs to be annulled.
Also, the main driver to the need for new housing and therefore new school places is mass immigration – Unlike the old three political parties, UKIP policy is to freeze immigration for five years (Except for exceptional cases where jobs that can’t be filled from the work force here need to be filled), and then a strict points system as per Australia needs to be rigidly enforced to stop the overstretching of resources and environmental impact that we see happening now.
In the short term, Hillingdon UKIP will be offering full support to John McDonnell MP and local councillors in opposing construction at Lake Farm – For a petition form to gain signatures for submission to the GLA environmental committee and to let Hillingdon Council know the depth of feeling on this matter, please get in touch via the contact section of this site or contact John McDonnell MP at firstname.lastname@example.org or Councillor Janet Duncan at email@example.com
Schools come and go in our local area, green belt land goes and does not return.
The education of our children is a vitally important task. These schools should be built in areas with easy access and minimum impact to our environment. It is time for Hillingdon council to look at the alternatives and protect our area whilst giving our children the education they need to continue to enhance our community. Anything less is a dereliction of duty to our grandchildren yet to come.