Gordonbrock School plans approved

Gordonbrock School's application to redevelop some of its school buildings were approved by a Lewisham Council planning committee last Thursday.

The plans had met with some fierce opposition due to a range of concerns, including the loss of some historic buildings, the loss of playground space, a possible increase in noise for some neighbouring homes, dissatisfaction with the quality and sustainability of the new design and, of course, the inevitable disruption for pupils during the construction phase.

Robert Park, from the Brockley Society (which was opposed to the plans), attended the hearing and provided this report:

Four councillors turned up to adjudicate on this, Paul Bentley (Lib Dem of Lee Green) was chair, then we had Ian Page (Socialist, Telegraph Hill), Andrew Milton (Lib Dem, Lewisham Central) and Alan Smith (Labour, Catford South). Vice chair Mike Keogh (Green, Ladywell) did not turn up. Perhaps Sue can inform us why this was? It may just have been logistical.

The case for the application was put forward by Mark Burgess, Lewisham's appointed project manager. One thing that became apparent earlier on was that the scheme is not PFI, as we all originally thought, and that the money for the development has been sourced from the Primary Capital Programme, which is a traditional Design & Build contract. This means that the school facilities will not fall to the ownership of Bouygues as is the case at Prenderghast Ladywell Fields. Mark was also very keen to point out that this was simply the re-submission of an existing planning consent, and that if this application was rejected, then they will plough on with the previously consented designs regardless.

The councillors' primary concern at this stage was over the quality of the drawings. Only plans and elevations were submitted, and these did not convey at all the proposals adequately - in the view of those councillors present who wanted to see a good quality CGI. Also, at this stage, it was clear that both Ian Page and Andrew Milton were of the opinion that the design of the building was not quite up to scratch.

Geoffrey Thurley of the Ladywell Society then spoke for five minutes in opposition to the proposals. He focused on the conservation issues, as well as the loss of playground space. Andrew Milton asked to be convinced of the viability of a refurbishment option, and Geoffrey informed him of the Victorian Society's conference and report on the improvements to heritage schools that have been promoted by other local authorities, such as Hampshire.

Sue Luxton then volunteered to speak from the floor. She highlighted neighbours concerns over possible noise pollution from the new ball court to the south-west of the site. She also put forward the view that although the new proposals were an improvement in sustainability terms than the previous application, that in her opinion it did not go far enough, and she would like to see more done to improve the heat insulation of the retained buildings.

In summation, Alan Smith stated that despite his reservations over the quality of the design, in his opinion a school that was unfit for purpose should be replaced, and he proposed the motion for granting permission. He also stated that he would like to recommend that if possible, the bulldozers move in tomorrow to start work. Andrew Milton, however, was still not sure, and decided to abstain based on the fact that the building had already been granted permission in 2005. Ian Page then seconded the motion, Paul Bentley took the vote, and in voting himself, delivered the verdict for consent - three for the proposals, with one abstention.

- With thanks to Robert for the report.