|Durston House Plan Approval Described as 'Environmental Vandalism'|
Ealing planning committee votes narrowly to give controversial scheme go ahead
Ealing Council’s planning committee has narrowly voted to give the go ahead to controversial plans to allow a local private school to expand into the Castlebar Playing Field. The scheme has been described as ‘an act of environmental vandalism’ by those opposing it.
At the meeting on 15 January, a vote into the application by Durston House was split 5 councillors against 5 with the determination being made by the casting vote of the chair. While Councillor Seema Kumar argued against the proposal, Lib Dem Councillor Gary Busuttil made the case that the school is in need of better accommodation.
Some children from the school attended the meeting in uniform which those opposed to the scheme claimed had been encourage by the school in an attempt to influence the committee.
Local resident and BBC presenter Konnie Huq spoke at the meeting from the chamber at Ealing Council pointing out that the plans would see what is currently the last remaining open space in the Ealing Broadway ward built over.
Durston House is an independent preparatory school located across a number of buildings primarily on Castlebar Road and Longfield Road. The existing school buildings were originally residential and converted to educational buildings but with the new scheme approved they will be able to provide purpose built facilities and increase the number of pupils at the school by over 100.
The surrounding buildings are also predominately residential properties, with the exception of another independent preparatory school, Harvington School, also located on Castlebar Road. The school will be building a new three-storey school building to accommodate 540 pupils from reception to year 8 on Castlebar Fields, a site which they own. They will remove the existing pavilion, storage facility and floodlit tennis courts. The current school buildings on Castlebar Road are to be converted into 12 flats and three houses and their building on Longfield Road will become a 5 bedroom house.
The proposed three-storey teaching building, with a single storey reception block attached to its west end, is parallel to Carlton Road. A new two-storey assembly building, with a single storey kitchen attached to it, will be positioned to the north-east end of the teaching building creating a courtyard to be used twice a day for arrivals and departures of pupils and staff. The assembly building would be used by the school during school hours and by the local community out of hours by arrangement. The open plan dining and main hall spaces would provide 2 badminton courts. Other facilities such as lockers, changing rooms, showers, toilets and stores have been designed to be used by members of the local community according to the school.
There were a substantial number of objections to the plan from local residents with the belief that the school would cause a further increase in traffic in the area being the most common. Residents complained that the number of vehicles passing through what were once very quiet residential streets has been steadily rising. It was pointed out that, with parking on both sides, Carlton Road is effectively a single track and traffic conflicts can lead to tailbacks and road rage incidents. Safety concerns have also been raised over the blind bend on Carlton Road which objectors believe make it unsuitable for a school site. Opponents say that the scheme departs from Ealing council’s usual policy to not build on greenfield sites. It is claimed that over 40 mature tress will be lost as a result of the plan.
Campaigner Nic Moran expressed his dismay after highlighting safety of pupils entering the site and told EalingToday.co.uk, “When asked about biodiversity again the Councillors were lied to and the whole meeting was based on falsehoods, lies and misrepresentation… Why are the Children and Parents of this area of Ealing being forced out of the area deserted by this Council and being given another huge private school but no state option. Not everyone has £120,000 to spend on private prep school fees.”
Headmaster of the school Ian Kendrick said, "the new buildings will cover only 18 per cent of Castlebar Field and 82 per cent of the site will remain open.
"Our plans will improve biodiversity and support the Mayor of London’s strategy for urban greening.”
The application united three MPs from across the party divide. Not only did Ealing Central and Acton’s Rupa Huq oppose but joined forces with her one-time adversary Joy Morrissey who stood for the Conservatives in the same seat in 2017 who has since been elected MP for Beaconsfield. Their joint letter stated that there was a lack of need for the expansion which will see a 20% increase in places from 432 present pupils to 540 given there is a surplus of primary school places in the W5 postcode area presently, the added pressure on an already narrow road with no passing places with school drop off and pick up and the failure to comply with government policy that planning applications need to demonstrate biodiversity net gain and leave the environment in a better state after than at the start.
Rupa Huq MP said, “We live in an age where our planet is at risk with a climate crisis so replacing grassland with a concrete box surrounded plastic astro-turf which is carcinogenic if ingested by wildlife, upsets drainage and soil features of the eco-system is hugely damaging for the environment.”
Alex Stafford MP for Rother Valley since December and longstanding councillor for Ealing Broadway ward said,” Not only will this development destroy greenspace on Ealing it will not provide any benefits to residents or children of the Borough. I have been told that over the last few years only a small handful of the children leaving Durston go on to study in Ealing with the vast majority of them being educated outside the Borough. This to me shows that increasing the size of the school will not benefit Ealing pupils but will leave Ealing residents to pick up the environmental damage. I urge the committee to reject this vandalism to our beloved green spaces.”
Given that the proposal sees the building on what is designated Community Open Space there is a power of appeal at City Hall level. Campaigners say their next step will be to appear to Sadiq Khan to block the proposal.
An online petition has been set up by Save Ealing's Green Spaces which, at the time of writing, had over 500 signatures.
January 28, 2020