A controversial scheme to double the size of a Gaywood primary school has been given the go ahead by county planners.
Residents had signed an online petition and won the support of North West Norfolk MP Henry Bellingham in opposition to the application by St Martha’s Roman Catholic VC Primary in Field Lane.
They were worried about traffic problems caused by a much enlarged school on a road that also has Gaywood Community School and Springwood High close by.
Aidan McGovern, headteacher of St Martha’s personally addressed today’s meeting of the Norfolk County Council planning regulation committee at County Hall in Norwich and admitted that parking around the school mornings and afternoons was “bonkers” but promised to work to make it better.
Councillors had seen pictures of the problems caused as parents dropped off and picked up children at the school sent in by resident Paul Harris.
His “final plea” letter was read to the committee and said that the situation was already “a nightmare for residents” and the thought of another 200 cars joining the “chaos” would be laughable.
Local councillor Margaret Wilkinson said it was not a case “of whether the school is good or bad it is about the residents who contact me”.
She described the area outside the school as “very dangerous”. Because it was a Catholic school it had a catchment area that stretched to Wisbech and that meant many people drove to the school.
“I do feel sorry for the people that are unable to get out of their driveway every day 10 minutes before and 10 minutes after school going home time,” she said.
“I’m also concerned how emergency services will be able to access these properties if there was such a need.”
Mr McGovern addressed the meeting and said: “The voice of the child has to be heard ... I asked the children what you would say if you were here today and they said to say that the school gives me opportunity and we need to make it bigger. Our school is really good!”
“It is bonkers outside the school at five past three,” he said, “but we are encouraging the older children to walk that bit further on their own.”
He said that 177 children at the school live less than a mile from it at present and only 10 travel more than three miles.
Councillor Jason Law said he had heard many good things about the school but “this is a problem already”. He feared for the safety of pupils unless something was done to improve parking behaviour. However, he said he was reassured by the presence of Mr McGovern at the committee meeting and wshat he had to say.
Fellow Lynn councillor Brian Long said he lived in the area until five years ago and knew it well and that while parking outside the school was bad, that was not necessarily true in the streets a little further away. But parents had to be encouraged to park there and walk.
But Labour’sBert Bremner said parents would always park as close as they could to schools, particularly when dropping off younger children.
And Colin Foulger said: “We are talking about human nature here. Despite all the good intentions, if it is raining, parents will car their children to the door and it aint going to get any better. Whatever decision we make we will upset one side or the other.”
A proposal to hold a site visit to the school was rejected with only two in favour and the proposal to support the officers’ recommendation to back the application was carried by 10 votes to four with two absentions.
Afterward Mr McGovern said: “I fully appreciate the difficulties of living next to a school. I live next to a school myself. It is about working with them and coming up with solutions that are workable.”