Charlton versus the school run: Should we start blocking off roads?

Parking outside the new Our Lady of Grace school
Parking outside the new Our Lady of Grace school

We’re lucky in Charlton to have some very good schools. Our Lady of Grace Primary is lucky enough to have the newest school, having moved into just-completed buildings on Highcombe last month.

Unfortunately, some of its parents could do with some lessons themselves. Back in 2015, when planning permission was granted, there were fears about the effects of parents driving to school on the streets around the site, which sits in between two other schools – Sherington and Fossdene.

Now Highcombe is a mess at chucking-out time, with parents parking all over the pavement and even using the tiny Littlecombe cul-de-sac to reverse their cars. Greenwich Council says it will pass details onto its parking enforcement teams.

Elsewhere in London, Camden Council is taking a different approach. It’s closing a road in Covent Garden during school hours to protect a primary school from traffic and parking. This was covered by Tom Edwards on yesterday’s BBC London News, while here’s a video from charity Living Streets.

The issues facing St Joseph’s in Covent Garden are slightly different from ours in Charlton – it’s in the centre of London so there are a lot of delivery vehicles and taxis trying to get down the road, our streets are wider and more residential. The catchment for Our Lady of Grace may also be bigger.

But our streets are still clogged by double-parking, bad parking, and traffic that really shouldn’t be there. It’s dangerous for children and other passers-by and adds to the area’s already poor air quality. We design out anti-social behaviour in housing estates, so why not our side roads?

The thinking is that if you block the roads at the start and end of the school day, it becomes more difficult for people to drive their children to school and for others to use that route as a rat run. The parents take the hint and take their kids another way, the rat runners return to the main road. In theory. (It’s a very light version – a pop-up version, shall we say – of the Walthamstow Mini-Holland scheme, but targeted at schools and for just a short time in the day.)

Already, we’re seeing a couple of Charlton streets closed for a couple of hours on odd days to encourage children to play out. Should we be doing the same in Highcombe, Wyndcliff Road and Sherington Road to help them get to school safely?

New Our Lady of Grace school approved for disused Highcombe playing field site

new Our Lady of Grace School on Highcombe
Developer Galliford Try’s image of the new Our Lady of Grace School on Highcombe
Plans to rebuild Our Lady of Grace primary school on a disused playing field in Highcombe were passed by Greenwich Council last night, despite a 100-signature petition signed by neighbours who oppose the development.

The scheme, passed unanimously by the nine councillors on the planning board, will see the Roman Catholic school move down the hill from its Charlton Road site to open space last used by the former St Austin’s comprehensive school and its successor, Christ The King sixth form college.

The school building was demolished when Christ the King moved to Lewisham in the early 1990s and was replaced with housing, but the playing field remained in church ownership and was left abandoned. The land and Highcombe itself have long been a blackspot for flytipping.

It will enable the school to double its intake to 420 pupils, at a time when primary school places are in high demand. Vehicles will enter via Highcombe – 18 staff parking spaces are being provided – with deliveries using Lime Kiln Close.

The new school could be open as early as September 2016 – a factor in councillors wanting to approve the application now instead of wanting to defer it to iron out issues with those who live near the site.

With a shortage of school places in Greenwich borough, planning chair Mark James said that as community open space can be used for education, “that is the overriding consideration” in the case. Councillors did call for a community garden to be included on the site.

Our Lady of Grace site render

Neighbours are concerned about increased car traffic on adjacent side roads as well as the loss of open space – the 1992 planning agreement for Lime Kiln Drive stated the site was to remain for recreation – with some calling for the school to be rebuilt on its existing site or at the Blackheath Bluecoat site on Old Dover Road. There are also concerns about a “multi-use games area” alongside the school.

Charlton ward councillor Gary Parker led objectors, saying the development would add to the “significant” amount of traffic caused by parents and staff driving to schools in the immediate area. He asked for the application to be deferred.

Martina Keating of the Charlton Central Residents’ Association – whose area doesn’t cover Highcombe – complained the group had not been invited to consultation events. She was also concerned about effects from building the school, adding that piling work at the Sainsbury’s site could be heard from Charlton Village.

Keating said the application had a “rosy view” of car parking – adding that most current Our Lady of Grace staff and pupils came by car. She was also concerned about claims that Victoria Way was a “quiet road” that was suitable for pupils to use to cycle to school, particularly with an increase in traffic caused by new superstore development.

Caroline Love of Charlton Community Gardens pointed out that her group was formed through unsuccessful negotiations with Southwark Diocese to use the land, lamenting the loss of potential for a “community-managed local park”

Local resident Richard Lovegrove, who presented a 100-strong petition from immediate neighbours, said the area would struggle to cope with traffic and branded the scheme a “dangerous, flawed proposal”. Another resident referred to a 1914 covenant on the land which he said meant the owners “must not cause noise or nuisance to neighbours”.

But a father of a child at Our Lady of Grace school, Mark Adams, said there was a “silent majority” in favour of the scheme, claiming most parents there did not drive.

Representatives of the scheme said it was impossible to rebuild the school on its current site due to the listed buildings next to it, and in any case they didn’t own the land there. They added that a scheme to hire out the playing field at “reasonable” rates had failed.

The current site of Our Lady of Grace is not included in the planning application. A previous application covering both sites failed in 2014 because of worries about housing planned for the land where the school sits now.

Our Lady Of Grace school has another go at rebuilding – have your say on Highcombe plan

Our Lady Of Grace school on Charlton Road has submitted a revised planning application for a ‘two form entry primary school‘, to be built on the long-disused playing field off Highcombe, below their current premises. The key difference from their previous – rejected – application, appears to be¬†that the main entrance to the school would be from Highcombe, rather than Lime Kiln Drive (though the cul-de-sac would still house a service entrance and emergency exit). Charlton Community Gardens have raised concerns about the loss of land that has been designated Community Open Space in the council’s local plan. There’s an open meeting at Blackheath Rugby Club to discuss the plans on Monday 22nd June, starting 7pm with a presentation of the plans. The latest plans and documentation can be found on the council’s planning portal: search for application 15/1225/F, or “Highcombe”.