Solihull school expansion moves forward amid massive protests from neighbours
Controversial plans to expand a Solihull primary school have taken another step forward, despite huge opposition from local residents.
Those living near St Augustine’s Catholic Primary School argue that doubling its capacity will make chaotic scenes in surrounding streets even worse.
They have said that congestion in the Whitefields Road area already leaves them trapped in their homes in the mornings and afternoons and poses a major road safety risk.
Solihull Council has argued it has a duty to meet the rising demand among Catholic pupils and there was “no realistic alternative” but to add 210 places at St Augustine’s.
This week Cllr Ken Meeson, cabinet member for children, education and skills, agreed to press ahead with a formal four-week consultation process, which would be followed by a planning application.
The decision at a stormy council meeting prompted cries of “disgraceful” and “waste of time” from many of the several dozen neighbours who had crowded into the Civic Suite.
Peter Cogley, chair of the Whitefields Action Group (WAG), had earlier warned the council not to ignore the “elephant in the room” – traffic – and had brandished a patchwork elephant to prove his point.
“We need this sorted now,” he said, referring to the existing traffic problems on a cluster of roads where there are four other schools and colleges.
“Cllr Meeson, no-one will thank you for creating someone else’s problem to be solved tomorrow, a problem that contradicts multiple council policies, initiatives and common sense.”
Ahead of the meeting, Mr Cogley had told the Local Democracy Reporting Service (LDRS) that residents had “had enough”.
“It would be ridiculous for the council to double what is already a bad situation,” he had said.
More than 350 people had signed a petition against the plans after an initial consultation exercise was approved back in May.
At the time, the consultation document said: “The school site can physically accommodate the additional accommodation required for the expansion and will be subject to all normal planning processes.”
Ward councillor Joe Tildesley (Con, St Alphege) had also addressed the meeting, describing Whitefields Road as “one of the most dangerous” streets in the borough during the school run.
“I’ve been a constable, a sergeant, an inspector and an acting chief inspector on Eastern Traffic based at Solihull Police Station.
“It is my professional opinion … that the level of traffic movements on Whitefields Road is already at a dangerously saturated level.”
Opposition councillors had asked if there was any option to move St Augustine’s to a new site or to open a new school altogether.
Cllr Jean Hamilton (Green, Smith’s Wood) said: “Is there no other way of looking at this?
“I think there’s obviously a huge amount of anxiety in the room about the traffic congestion and the parking, it is a problem – and I know that from my ward work as well – right across the borough.
“But particularly in this case we do have a massive campus with lots of schools spilling out into two roads.”
Education officer Ann Pearson had suggested that there would be obstacles to other proposals, such as finding a suitable site and national policy.
Cllr Meeson acknowledged the plans had proven “controversial” but insisted the traffic issue – which had dominated debate – would be looked at in detail as part of the planning process.
In his summing up, he said: “There have been suggestions about moving the school to a new site, we do not have a new site.
“Talk about building a new school; the local authority cannot decide to build a new school, we no longer run education in the way that we used to … a new school would have to come forward via a sponsor.
“Given what is in the report and given what we’ve heard tonight my decision is that we go forward to a further consultation.”
The current timetable envisages the expansion will begin next autumn.
Read more: https://www.birminghammail.co.uk/news/midlands-news/solihull-school-expansion-moves-forward-16986412