Downham school expansion plan approved by councillors

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A multi-million pound plan to increase pupil capacity at a Downham primary school by up to 50 per cent has been approved by councillors today.

Up to 630 children, the equivalent of three full classes in each year group, could be accommodated at the Hillcrest Primary under proposals backed by Norfolk County Council’s planning committee this morning.

Work on the project, which officials say will cost around £4.5 million, is expected to start in May, following a tendering exercise, and is hoped to be completed next summer.

At present, around a third of the school’s 500 pupils are being taught in mobile classrooms and headteacher Matthew Try said the decision was great news for them and staff alike.

He said: “It will give the school a good platform to build on our recent good Ofsted report and give our children the facilities they deserve.”

The scheme allows for the extension, and partial refurbishment, of the main school building, plus the construction of a new permanent two-storey block.

The existing mobile classrooms, a store and a shed on the site would be demolished.

A statement from the county council’s children’s services department, which submitted the application, said the development was still needed despite the recent expansion of the town’s other primary school, Nelson Academy.

It said: “It is essential that sufficient school places are provided to meet local demand and Hillcrest Primary School offers the only opportunity to do this within Downham Market.

“Hillcrest School is also reliant on five mobiles comprising seven class-bases which will be removed on completion of the project.

“Children will thus be provided with purpose built teaching accommodation of a high standard.”

But objectors claimed the scheme will make existing traffic and parking problems around the site even worse, with one arguing the area was “an accident waiting to happen.”

The application was referred to the committee after 18 letters of objection were submitted, compared to seven in favour.

Others argued the plan increases the possibility of collisions, while one even suggested a completely new site should be identified for an expanded school.

But supporters say the scheme is “desperately needed” and would benefit the area.

Planning officials have conceded the development is likely to lead to an increase in traffic, but said issues of inconsiderate or illegal parking were for the police to address.

And Mr Try said the proportion of pupils who were either walking, cycling or using scooters to get to school had increased over the past year and plans are being developed to extend current Cycling Proficiency programmes to younger year groups.

He added: “We’re doing what we can to work with parents and children to encourage walking and cycling.”

The plan also allows for extra on-site parking for staff and visitors, plus an additional pedestrian access route.

An updated travel plan will also be drawn up to meet planning conditions.