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.


A said...

Sorry, hang on - a council officer voted? That doesn't sound right - some mistake?

Tamsin said...

Robert probably meant Paul Bently - it would have been the Chair who took the vote.

What a downer...

Sue said...

Mike had given his apologies as he is on holiday at the moment. It's pretty unusual for him to miss a planning meeting, but not unusual for only 4 out of 10 committee members to show up.

Planning committees can only pass/reject planning applications on valid planning grounds, and given that there was already planning permission for a slightly worse design, their hands were pretty much tied in this case.

Robert said...

Yes. It was indeed Paul Bentley that took the vote, not Mark Burgess - my mistake - I wrote that up late on Thursday evening, after a few glasses of liquor.

Perhaps the kind folks at Brockley Central might correct that on my behalf!

Brockley Nick said...

Robert, does it now read correctly?

Robert said...

Perfect. Thanks Nick.

Anonymous said...

what is it with Lewisham Council and their love of demolishing anything old?

trixie said...

the Catford Cat is old and that's still there...

Robert said...

Sir Steve Bullock is also still there, and he's very old too.

m said...

It is all too sad, why can't we spend millions and get the thing right.

Anonymous said...

Short termism, lack of vision.

mat said...

Short term with regard to what we get, but catastrophic long term in terms of what we loose.

Anonymous said...

The infants building is just so lovely from across the playground. Why would they want to demolish it? Why don't they spend the money on doing something right? This is vandalism. My Grandaughter knew nothing of these plans and she has had son at school for 3 years.

Anonymous said...

They can't use the plans they have just used for the school down the road if they have to think about working with our lovely buildings.

You would need a very creative architect who is good at modern and conservation to get it to work. I don't think it is obvious, so probably beyond the corporate company they are most likely to have got in to do the job. Sad thing is it would be cheaper to start from the existing buildings.

It all came as a horrible shock to my neighbour's family too. I thought consultation was all the thing these days. Obviously not in schools.

Tamsin said...

Of course not - if you consult too widely you might get the wrong answers!

None of the politicians or professionals have a vested interest in working with what already exists (no kudos there), and so you consult with those who - for good or bad, conscious or sub-conscious motives - also want change.

Tressilliana said...

It seems a pity that the school - staff, governors, PTA - has not made sure that all parents knew this rebuild was on the cards. Planning permission was granted five years ago and all parents then knew all about it. There was consultation way back from 2001 onwards - although not about whether to go for a major capital scheme, admittedly - more along the lines of trying to get interested parents involved in drawing up the plans within the funding constraints. Also, to my certain knowledge, parents had been told something about the scheme via the Governors' Annual Report. Maybe all communication with parents has fallen into abeyance in the last three or four years since Gordonbrock was dropped from the PFI scheme, but it shouldn't have.

Anonymous said...

Tresilliana you are right, since we were dropped from the PFI list not alot (you'd be forgiven for missing it) has been said about the rebuild, it is only if you had an older children in the school who'd since left that you might know about it. Quite outrageously, in my opinion, new parents have been left in the dark.
As you say, staff, governors, PTA, could have kept parents informed but I have a suspicion it was quite a surprise to them too. Maybe the head teacher could have told everyone? Maybe the headteacher couldn't be bothered with the inevitable dissenting voices and knew it was more-or-less guaranteed to get the go-ahead?
You're right, lots of things happen that shouldn't happen.

rach said...

The parents group did not know anything about the plans. The last I had heard about anything post the first lot of funding falling through (when my child wasn't at the school) was through a governor, when they got an architectural practice to prepare a feasibility study, to look at staged improvements should smaller pots of money come up. These options saved all the buildings. When I queried the architects who ultimately did the job why this wasn't being done, he said, "Oh that was when we didn't have so much money".

He also confirmed as I looked at the wonderful parquet floors with their 100 years of polish if they would be matching the quality...I'm sure you know the answer.

Anonymous said...

Don't suppose anyone will have the answers here...so please point us in the direction of where to go.

Why is there such inequality in what is being offered to schools? ie Gordonbrock is only being given funding on condition they go three form entry. It is apparent that schools with more space and less pupils aren't being forced to do this.

Why are parents not consulted on such a major issue around their children's schooling.

Why isn't there (or is there a useless one) an educational adviser assigned to this project. They should ensure that the space standards inside and out are adequate.

Why has central Lewisham area which is due to have a massive increase in the numbers been allowed to decrease their school role.

Where do you go with these queries?

Yes, I would much prefer to send my children to a one or two form entry school. There is much more chance of them not being lost in the crowd, not finding it so overwhelming and just being able to keep track of friends. Like the school, the parents not living spitting distance of the popular schools aren't given any choice in this matter.

Tressilliana said...

I think I must be missing something here, Anon 20:21, as there seems to be a contradiction in your last paragraph. If Gordonbrock took fewer children, only parents within spitting distance would stand any chance of getting their children in. We were extremely lucky to get a place there for our daughter, given that we live on the other side of Hilly Fields.

As for Lewisham's predictions on birth rate by ward, this is the link posted by Sue on another thread:


By the way, I can honestly say that neither of my children got lost in the crowd there, even though it's a big school. I acknowledge that some children would, but equally some children would find a very small school a bit limiting, even stifling.

Anonymous said...

I think I'm onto what anon's last comment is, because it is how I felt when we got sent off to the other side of the park. We needed to live 600m from our school of choice (and 400m from our second local school). Gordonbrock was a longer walk than our first choice and we had friends who lived even closer to it (Ashmead) and didn't get in. This meant they had even further to walk across, up to and over the park.

Isn't he saying that the closest school gets a rebuild and can stay one form entry, even when demand for places is high and they have lots of space. Why( having more space...that is my addition) hasn't it gone two form entry to ease the situation?

Why make a school already short of playground space take in more pupils.

Is the reason you can get places when you are so far away, because there is limited demand from the other side of school with Stillness taking in children too. Could be wrong of course, just a slightly irrelevant thought.

I have to say the walk over the park is the highlight of the day and certainly have no complaints about that.

Anonymous said...

The school we get certainly isn't based on suitability for the child we have. So it's a shame we can't compromise on two form entry.

I think the large number of dead people and the park make the catchment quite wide for Gordonbrock.

I'd be interested to know what the overall plan is for the schools in the area and why one already cramped for space has to take in more people. Is there a strategy or were they unfairly picked on?

Tamsin said...

That phrase rach quoted from the architect "Oh, that was when we did not have so much money!" sums up everything that is wrong with public sector procurement. Where extra finance is universally a substitute for intelligent thinking.

A scandal!

Anonymous said...

This http://tinyurl.com/yat6gpr
makes very interesting reading. I can see where they're coming from, take on board the figures etc. Haven't time to read in detail now but I think some people on here have noticed the flaw in the thinking. If you live 'on the other side of the park' (by this I think we are referring to any of the roads in between Lewisham way/Loampit vale and Hillyfields) and you are looking for a primary school, you are not going to be thinking of Gordonbrock because it is basically a long way to come for a school, and yet the schools near to you are oversubscribed. Yet the council is only talking of increasing Brockley Primary and Gordonbrock. Lewisham Bridge is out of the equation for the timebeing. Gordonbrock is considered to 'have space' to expand, on the basis that they're all a bit cramped anyway.
And that's without going into the fraught territory of which is supposed to be a good school or not.

Anonymous said...

I always thought it was important to go to your local community school and what a better place the world would be if we all got on and did that...but really the thought of my child spending the day in such confined environment is making me have second thoughts. I wasn't expecting St Dunstan's and their playing fields, but I've looked at the plan now for Gordonbrock and I am shocked at the small areas for such huge numbers of children.

matrowan said...

I've just had a brief look at this link too. http://tinyurl.com/yat6gpr

Is it saying that the Lewisham Brockley area will have a shortfall equivalent to 2 forms of entry. A whole school's worth?

What was the reason they wouldn't make Lewisham Bridge two form entry?

It also talks about improving the well being of children throughout the authority.

item "5.1.6 Parents play a key role in their children's success, a priority is to maximise the contribution of parents to thier children's learning and to ECM outcomes...engaging them in their children's education.

So for all you parents out there who feel especially excluded by your school for imposing without consultation a pretty poor new build scheme involving permanent destruction of national heritage, there you have it.

I think the well being of children should be made to include adequate playground space myself.

I am disgusted with Lewisham for tunring what is meant to be well meaning and positive funding into an excuse to demolish quality and cram in too many chidren to an already congested site, with no regard or care for healthy outside space. Why are they spending money so badly?

m said...

Did everyone see this on Gordonbrock School.


Anonymous said...

Why were Lewisham threatening to go ahead with the widely accepted dreadful first plan for Gordonbrock. They did not meet modern educational need for IT. Will the current proposals also be out of date and inappropriate five years down the line?

It seems they are keener to destroy our heritage so they can get school admission up than care about what the staff or children have to put up with.

Anonymous said...

Well, Anon, exactly, although they have the go ahead now for the revised plans. I find it shocking that plans can be out of date in the time span of 5 years, which is why I think it is more sensible to develop what we have already. However, I think they will go ahead whatever our opinions are, they want to get those bums on seats.
I have to say that I actually love some new buildings but why is it that they look so bad so quickly, it must be the materials used.

Tressilliana said...

I have no views on the plans, having not seen them, but you mention Lewisham trying to get 'bums on seats' and 'get the admission up' as if that was a bad thing. There is a projected shortage of school places in this area and Lewisham has the responsibility for finding the extra places. Where would you suggest that the children of SE4 go to primary school if Gordonbrock can't take them? Where are the sites that could be used to build a new site from scratch?

Also, playground space is important but not nearly as important as classroom space, in my view. As I have mentioned several times, the classrooms in Gordonbrock currently are far too small. This is not necessarily an argument for pulling the existing buildings down, if remodelling is a feasible option instead within the budget available. But you can't get away from the fact that the buildings as currently laid out are very picturesque but not as good as many newer primary schools.

All three of the primary schools I attended were built after WW2 and were far better laid out and equipped than Gordonbrock.

rach said...

Lewisham own a fair bit of land around central Lewisham, but they have other priorities there. They are also reducing the intake of Lewisham Bridge School by half a form. Won't this mean that the increased numbers at Gordonbrock will be children displaced from Lewisham Bridge rather than addressing the demand for more places.

Personally, I am with Rachel McMillan on access to the outdoors for our urban children and find it very depressing that the playground areas have been so reduced that they are struggling to find enough space for the equipment previously purchased by children and parents. When I queried the lack of anything in the nursery garden, the landscape architect said the reason there was no planting is because it is too shady. That doesn't sound like an environment fit for nursery children.

I'm sure great big classrooms will be a big improvement in some aspects, but it seems to be coming at a terrible expense.

rach said...

Another thought on reference to bums on seats, which is pretty much how I feel about the plans too. It isn't so much the issue of increasing the school to 3 form entry, but the way they have planned school around it. I feel as though Lewisham's project manager doesn't want to stop and listen to anyone, he has a schedule to meet and whatever is wrong they are going ahead.

There would be ways to inventively refurbish, new build with roof top playgrounds or other accessible spaces and significantly improve the whole environment in and out. But the plans have been reworked from the even worse original PFI plans which fell through. It was quicker and no doubt cheaper to do this.

I resent the millions of pounds that will be spent tearing down the particularly lovely infants building and the East Hall, when I know millions would transform them into something wonderful.

I also love good modern architecture.

Anonymous said...

I mentioned 'bums on seats' with no emotional attachment, simply as a fact. Yes, we do need more school places, but in the right location. It's all very well building a huge place in (for the sake of argument and with exaggeration intended) say Scotland but what if the need is in Cornwall?

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