CONGESTION concerns have scuppered a plan to double the size of a village school meaning a new site must now be found.
The village of St Nicholas, five miles west of Cardiff on the A48, already struggles with congestion, especially when parents drive to and from its Church in Wales primary school.
Many living in the village had raised concerns that plans for a new building for St Nicholas CIW primary school, twice the size of the existing school, would exacerbate the congestion.
Now the Vale of Glamorgan council must find an alternative site for the new building as councillors on the planning committee, listening to those concerns, voted against approving permission for the new school building, at a meeting on Thursday, January 21.
The plans, part of the 21st-century schools building programme, would have seen a new building with space for 210 pupils, built next to the current school with space for 126 pupils.
But as the school is difficult to get to on foot, bicycle or bus, many parents and carers drive there to drop off their children, with a lot coming from places outside the village, like Ely.
A convoluted one-way system had been proposed around the village during pick-up and drop-off times, to address the congestion concerns. But this was slammed as unworkable, confusing, and blocking key routes for farm vehicles driving through the village.
During the planning committee meeting, residents and councillors raised their concerns while council officers and cabinet members sought to allay their fears.
Sally Carnell, one resident, said:
“At first glance, it would seem this application would demonstrate how to fit a gallon into a pint pot. Closer reading shows it falls in a conservation area, which is predominantly Victorian in nature.
“The access lanes are Victorian, narrow and without footpaths. It is this access which has created concern among residents.
“There is a proposal of a one-way system, whereby vehicles would circulate past the schools and church exiting onto the A48 on a blind junction. This proposal is dangerous to road users, pedestrians and residents.
“It would also block access for agricultural vehicles, and cause gridlock in this area of the village, with residents being unable to leave or return to their properties at these times.
“No emergency vehicle would be able to adequately respond to properties including the school, should they be needed. There’s no safe access on foot to the site, nor can it be made safe. If the school expands on this site, so too will the congestion and disruption.”
Brian Davies, another resident, said:
“I have lived in St Nicholas for 28 years, I have served as a governor and both my children attended the school. We’re all in favour of a new school, especially when we can use the new facilities.
“The existing site is not easily accessible to residents on the new housing estate because they would have to walk on the A48 which is where most children will come from from the village.
“There’s no safe route to school as there are no pavements, nor is there room to put in any at all. No one-way system can resolve the lack of space, which is the problem. The proposal makes the situation more dangerous.”
One problem with the current school is that classrooms are split over two buildings, meaning some pupils have to walk from one to the other every day. Another is the huge backlog of maintenance work needed on the now ageing buildings.
Also, St Nicholas and the nearby village of Bonvilston are both rapidly expanding with huge new housing developments popping up, increasing the demand for primary school places.
Speaking in favour of the plan, Councillor Lis Burnett, cabinet member for education, said:
“I’m uncomfortable that reception-aged children still have to walk to the nearby old school building every day following morning assembly.
“The 84 additional places provide for children from local housing developments. This application is an opportunity to provide active and sustainable travel with a school that would also be one of Wales’ first low carbon schools.
“I recognise there are traffic concerns and it’s a common issue among many schools in the Vale. But I’m confident that we can work with the school, parents and community council.”
Jennifer Newton, the vice-chair of the governors of the school, added:
“Nearly two years ago, the school received news that funding had been identified to enable a complete rebuild of the school.
“This was extremely welcome news to all of us, as we are all well aware of the limited space and deteriorating physical state of the school buildings.
“The school is split over two sites in the village, with the youngest pupils having to move between two sites several times a day, along a road with no pavements. Both buildings are in need of extensive repair.”
But despite the clear need for a new school building in the area, councillors on the planning committee decided an alternative site was required, because of the congestion concerns and road safety fears. The committee voted nine to six to reject planning permission.