Surrey is seeking planning permission to raise Heathside’s school numbers. Originally Heathside School was given permission for 920 pupils but by 1996 it had increased its number, without planning permission, to 1352. On being challenged for this discrepancy it sought retrospective planning permission from the borough to increase its number in 2005. This was refused, again on transport grounds. Surrey appealed to the national government and the government planning inspector agreed to a new maximum number of pupils (the actual number attending the school at that time) on condition that the travel plan be reviewed every six months. This is a very weak condition as most travel plans are often lax in the beginning and are often unenforceable in any case.
This new planning application is caused by the need for more school places in the borough. Elmbridge has a secondary school age population of 12,000 pupils and that number is growing. Births in Elmbridge increased by 30% between 2002 and 2010 and the
borough plan indicates that up to 3,375 new homes are to be built between 2011
and 2026. Yet Elmbridge has only four secondary schools – in Ditton (Hinchley Wood), Esher, Hersham (Rydens) and Weybridge (Heathside). It needs ten more schools of 840 pupils each (four classes in each year from years seven to thirteen).
Because of the taxation arrangements in Britain – unique in the developed world – Surrey relies on the national government for revenues to fund new schools. Unfortunately, this revenue has been reduced significantly in recent times and Surrey simply does not significant revenues of its own to build the schools it needs. So Cobham, Molesey and Walton do not have their own schools – putting pressure on those towns like Weybridge that do.
The cheap option is to increase the size of the present schools. Heathside, originally a large 940 pupil school that has grown to 1,352 is set, should the application be successful, to increase to 1,475 pupils.
Elmbridge’s remit is purely related to the planning aspects of the project not the merits or otherwise of increasing the size of a school that has already outgrown its buildings. This particular application will be decided on highway matters alone.
Interestingly, Elmbridge is not the competent authority when it comes to highway planning matters. Surrey is the highway authority as well as the education authority.
The planning application is originated from Surrey which has a duty to school all of the children of the county. The application arrives at Elmbridge which in turn asks Surrey, as highway authority, what it thinks of the application.
This puts Surrey in a difficult position – it is both poacher and gamekeeper. Its decision must not just be one based on integrity but must be seen to be so by those most affected by the increase in numbers.
Any parent who has been anxious about their child’s school place will understand the massive pressure that Surrey is under to deliver those classroom places.
The Elmbridge planning application number is 2014/3765 and details can be found here.