Feb 22 2012 By James Cracknell
ST John's School will be allowed to retain all its staff after planning approval was finally granted by Hillingdon Council last night (Tuesday).
A packed meeting of the north planning committee at Uxbridge Civic Centre saw councillors unanimously vote in favour of the Northwood all-boy school's amendment to a planning condition dating back 11 years.
It means that the previous limit of 40 full-time staff in Potter Street Hill has been raised to 65, to match the capacity the school has had for several years and putting to rest any fears that 25 workers would have to be sacked.
St John's had already agreed to reduce the number of pupils down from 405 to 350 by September this year - the current number is 393.
There were cheers and a round of applause at the meeting as the plans were voted through, following a tumultuous two years of failed applications, failed appeals and failed judicial reviews.
St John's chair of governors, Johny Armstrong, said afterwards: "We're very pleased about this decision, which secures over 25 people's jobs.
"I'm grateful to the north planning committee and those councillors who spoke up in our support, but also to our many supporters who gathered over 3,000 signatures and wrote 345 letters and emails in support of our application.
"This has made a huge difference. We remain absolutely committed to being a good neighbour and this decision will allow us to continue to work together with the Council and the local community."
Of the hundreds who chose to comment on the application, only eight objected. Of the 40 petitions received, 36, totalling more than 3,000 signatures, had endorsed the school.
Among those speaking in favour of St John's on Tuesday were governor Martin Robb, head of learning support Suki Kalirai, parent Naomi Vaughan and two ward councillors.
A council officers' report to the meeting had argued that any traffic problems associated with staff numbers were insufficient to warrant rejection.
"Adequate evidence has been submitted to demonstrate that existing staff levels do not materially contribute to traffic queues which only occur during peak parent pick-up and drop-off times," it said.
An earlier application was rejected in April 2010 and dismissed on appeal and a second bid was also withdrawn in March 2011.
A breach of condition notice was served last September and a judicial review was quashed, but Northwood Hills ward councillor Andrew Retter said the school could now put all of those legal wrangles behind them.
He told the Gazette: "We have drawn a line under the questions over staff and pupil numbers and we can now sit down and discuss a way forward over the traffic problems.
"We want the school and the local community to live in harmony. We got a lot of agreement over the application but we want to make sure residents are not hindered by traffic flow in future.
"We need to encourage parents to take their pupils to school in different ways and be considerate to residents.
"The result from the meeting was a great move forward and very pleasing for all concerned."