Jun 7 2011 By Siba Matti
Taken by Mahesh Shah, a resident of Potter Street Hill, who said the increase in pupils and staff led to traffic chaos.
ST JOHN'S School in Northwood Hills has been ordered to fire 25 staff and slash pupil numbers after losing an appeal against a planning breach.
The school in Potter Street Hill was granted permission in 2001 to build a single-storey extension for an extra classroom and assembly area with a library for the prep-school, together with a first aid room and toilet.
As part of the agreement, the school, which sits on the Green Belt, was warned it could accommodate a maximum of 350 students and 40 full time staff. But for at least five years, there have been 405 students and 65 staff, which residents say has caused traffic chaos in the area, as well as 'intensifying the use of the Green Belt'. Road and pedestrian safety was also a concern.
The fee paying school applied for retrospective planning permission last May, with headmaster Chris Kelly pleading ignorance about the restriction. But Hillingdon councillors blasted the school for 'making a mockery of the planning process' and rejected the application.
The school took the matter to appeal but was dealt a bitter blow when the Planning Inspectorate dismissed it last Tuesday (May 31).
Planning inspector J.M Trask said in his report: "Surveys have shown the length of traffic can be up to 20 vehicles and there is evidence of longer tailbacks. Allowing the development to continue in its current form would let the detrimental road conditions persist, with the consequential harmful effects on highway and pedestrian safety and the free flow of traffic."
The subsequent loss of income is set to affect the school's ability to provide bursary funding and charitable giving. Maintenance is also likely to suffer.
School bursar, Nigel Stone, said: "St John’s School is disappointed by the appeal decision but expects to work with the council to achieve compliance. The school has attained very high educational standards within its community. Governors and management will consider various options with a view to safeguarding the interests of pupils and staff."
It is understood the school will be given time for a phased reduction in pupils, potentially by lowering new entrant intake. But Mr Stone remained tight-lipped about how and when staff numbers will be reduced. The building will remain.
Delighted Potter Street Hill residents have claimed victory in what they describe a 'long battle to get justice."
Mahesh Shah said: "For nearly 10 years residents have had to endure chaotic traffic and congestion on the narrow country lane where two vehicles can barely pass side by side. Clearly the school's plea that it was not aware of the condition did not hold water – ignorance of the law is not an excuse."
Deputy chief executive and corporate director of planning, environment, education and community services at Hillingdon Council, Jean Palmer, added: "The council will work to ensure that the decision is complied with."
We want your views. Is Hillingdon Council being too heavy-handed - or has the school only got itself to blame? Post your comments on our Northwood community site.