Archived on 6/5/2022

OLSPN planning inquiry: Fairlawn Park Planning Objectors Group

24 Aug '20

Hi all,

The OLSPN school redevelopment has taken a difficult path, and the Archdiocese has applied for a full planning inquiry, which will take some time to complete.

If you object to the Archdiocese’s plan to make minimal changes to the current design, then join the Fairlawn Park Planning Appeal Group. We can press for the promised build quality and environmental improvements are met. This includes green space within the school and works to Home Park, which were conditions of development.

If you want to be involved, and kept updated as to progress, please email

You don’t have to take on any personal responsibility if you don’t have time, but we can keep you updated. Being signed up as a group also strengthens our position at the inquiry.

Residents of neighbouring streets are more than welcome; please don’t be put off by the name. I had to call it something…

25 Aug '20

As I understand it, the current hold-ups are causing the lack of green space at the school! The builders can’t finish the rooftop play area or do any green playground works while the build is being challenged. I live nextdoor to the school and I am in support of the appeal by the Archdiocese. I want to see the school finished now for the sake of the children whose education as already been unnecessarily disrupted for far too long by these local rows over petty issues like opening or closing windows. It would be great to hear from other local people who feel the same way.

25 Aug '20

I’m another Fairlawn neighbour who backs onto the playground. I am fed up with the delays. Looking at an unfinished school and playground is starting to get me down. I want the children to have a useful, lovely space to learn and play in. I do not think replacing windows will make a difference and I’d prefer them to be able to open. I don’t like to think of children being blasted with used air. I really hope that the objectors refrain from putting posters everywhere again. What would you like to see happen? Do you want parts of the building to be pulled down and therefore further disrupt children’s education? There are quite a few children in Fairlawn that go to this school now, I find this arguing leaves a sour taste in the community. If you are asking others to join your group from far and wide, you’ll have people that don’t even look at the school surely.

25 Aug '20

You make a fair point about asking people to join who aren’t on Fairlawn. It seems a little deceptive create a group name like that and then ask anyone to join even if they are not a near resident on Fairlawn.

25 Aug '20

Absolutely everybody wants the school finished, and to give the children the school they deserve. The delays are because the developers won’t respond to council officers, and have stopped work. So many months of holidays and shutdown, and nothing has been done. Lewisham Council has let us down badly, as the main issue was reported to them in 2017. Had they acted then, it could have been swiftly sorted out with minimal problems.

It is important that equally close neighbours such as residents of the Explorer House flats opposite on Sydenham Road can also join. They are at least as badly affected as FP residents, and need to have a chance to have a say. The group is for immediate neighbours of the school who wish to see a better school building, and the environment the pupils deserve.

Finishing the school would not end the disruption. Lewisham is scheduled to start work on a block of flats on Winchfield Road, immediately behind FP. Site traffic, noise, dust and disruption will be with us for a couple of years. If we can’t trust that they will stick to the planning rules, then FP will be in for a bad time.

25 Aug '20

I do not disagree that there have been issues and mistakes in all sides. But, to be clear, the work has ceased currently because of objections to the existing build.These objections have been largely motivated by i) politcal optics for some and ii) visual appearance for others, and are not necessarily representative of many of us in the local community or the parents at the school. The builders have been forced to stop work. I also really don’t think you should conflate this build and the disruptions with the planned flats on Winchfield. This is about disruption to the children’s education should the builders be forced to do significant changes to the windows or other areas of the building that will hold up finishing the outdoor areas which the children so badly want and need.

25 Aug '20

I’m pleased you are keeping your group to immediate neighbours. I spoke to some objectors at previous public meetings who lived at the other end of Sydenham. I totally agree with you that the blame lies primarily with Lewisham not monitoring the build correctly, but we need to look at the present and the future now. The building is there. At the end if the day it will be the pupils that suffer if there are further delays. A lot of “fake news” gets spun at these public meetings and I don’t think we need to go into details. I would hate for the community to come to blows over this. I would like everyone to stick to the facts this time.

28 Aug '20

Have you read through the planning documents? That is how you know what is true. Accusations like saying objectors don’t want opening windows is fake news.

28 Aug '20

I think I’m just going to stop writing on here. You bringing up religion, someone else calling a school a prison has made me a bit sad and I don’t want it all to get ugly. Good night, sleep well.

29 Aug '20

Close neighbours of OLSPN school who are interested in getting improvements made, email

We can participate in the Archdiocese’s appeal to the planning inspectorate, and have a say in the outcome.

24 Sep '20

Well, the Archdiocese’s statement of case has just arrived, along with Lewisham’s. I will have to check whether I am legally allowed to post any quotes, but apparently they think very little of the school’s surroundings, and that it lacks the ingredients for a streetscape worthy of note. That’s us told!

6 Oct '20

Latest news from the Planning Inspectorate:

“the LPA are not required to publish statements but they must be available to view should someone wish to see them.”

So, anyone who is interested in reading the statements of case from the Archdiocese and from Lewisham Council, just ask, and they must send you a copy, or make other arrangements. If they get a few requests they will have to put it online.

Do have a read, as they are hilarious. As a taster… The Archdiocese’s statement says that they ACCEPT the Council’s list of planning breaches, but claim they are unimportant…

"5.35. The Council has identified the following changes proposed by the Appeal Scheme:

  1. Alterations to the materials;
  2. Alterations to the fenestration pattern;
  3. An increase in the height of the building;
  4. Alterations to the roof profile;
  5. Alterations to the siting of the building;
  6. The installation of the UKPN cabinets and planting on the corner of Sydenham Road and Fairlawn Park;
  7. The reduction in the number of fins on the Hall building;
  8. The installation of an internal ball fence to the playground on the flat roof of the Hall building;
  9. The installation of ventilation grilles;
  10. Alterations to external lighting;
  11. Alterations to the extraction flue;
  12. Alterations to the playground canopies;
  13. Alterations to the nursery entrance;
  14. The installation of an air-conditioning unit near the nursery entrance;
  15. Alterations to the brick plinth; and
  16. Alterations to the external plant store.

5.36. The Appellant agrees this list and will demonstrate that these changes do not either
individually or cumulatively, give rise to any material harm, will improve the performance and
appearance of the building and should receive planning permission"

About the area, the Archdiocese states:

Ground (a) That planning permission should be granted for what is alleged in the notice.
Materials and Fenestration
5.1. The stated first reason for issuing the Enforcement Notice concerns materials and pattern of fenestration. The notice alleges that it is two elements only “their appearance and quality” that are a cause of concern. It is alleged that these two elements “would results in an incongruent, low quality and poorly detailed building which is harmful to the character and appearance of the local streetscene”.

5.2. The Appellant will demonstrate that there is no distinctive character in the surrounding area that makes the townscape or streetscene particularly sensitive or worthy of note. The site is not located within a conservation area and it is not in the setting of a heritage asset whether designated or not."

I’m rather surprised that they don’t consider their own church to be a heritage asset, and the library certainly is.

19 Oct '20

So, the date for the OLSPN planning inquiry is announced: it is on the 9th and 10th February, 2021. It will be a virtual inquiry.

22 Oct '20

We finally have a date for the planning inquiry into the OLSPN redevelopment, the 9th and 10th February 2021. Due to COVID-19, it will be a virtual meeting; if you wish, you can follow proceedings live on MS Teams. This is quite straightforward, and many council meetings are being done online now, so it’s worth getting the hang of. Each side has requested that the Inspector should visit the site in person, so they can understand the issues, but that has not yet been confirmed.

The documentation so far (the full information will arrive 4 weeks before the inquiry) is very strange. The Archdiocese admits that the long list of planning breaches are true, but at the same time are arguing that they didn’t have to follow them…(?!) Frankly, as the Council lawyers can’t make sense of it, I’m not even going to try.

The Archdiocese says that they haven’t damaged the character and appearance of the area, because the area isn’t that attractive anyway. Astonishingly rude! I think Fairlawn Park is beautiful. They are claiming that Lewisham has been discriminating against them on religious grounds, and quite a lot of other accusations along those lines.

In addition, these kind of claims are also made in third party comments, supporting the Archdiocese. These include Bishop Patrick Lynch, auxiliary bishop (SE), saying:

" In Our Lady and St Philip Neri Primary School there is a very high percentage of students from BAME communities……. These include many single families on Universal Credit, housed in the area by by the Local Authority. There are, however, a few people in the local community who have reacted negatively to this change in the demographic of the area…." (ie. he thinks we’re racist… ?)

Two parents, one also a governor, imply objections are based in anti-catholic feelings. Most interestingly, a standard letter, copies signed by over 80 parents, says

“… . as a parent, I am very disappointed that the school remains unfinished. It seems to be that the needs of the pupils are being ignored in order to placate one or two vociferous residents who do not want a school near their homes.”

I am sure I could reasonably be described as vociferous, but I love living next to a school, I grew up next to a school, and like hearing kids in the playground. It’s the associated adults I have issues with. I am disturbed that this has been distributed, apparently with the cooperation of the school. I’d be happy to be told this was not distributed by the governors.

In the autumn of 2019, the Archdiocese submitted, as letters of support, a large group of letters from pupils. Having seen copies (redacted for privacy), I discovered that these are actually letters to the Archdiocese, giving their positive and negative views of the new building. A huge proportion of them ask (very politely) for blinds in the classrooms, because glare from the sun made it hard to see projectors and screens, and also made the rooms miserably hot.

I would point out that these problems are the result of the wrong windows being fitted; they were to be deep set, not flush, to cut glare. Ventilation panels should have provided fresh air, while keeping it soundproof to traffic. Many other issues were raised by the pupils, including health and safety concerns, and the general impression is that they were finding the school buildings uncomfortable.

Anyway, please spread the word, and ask anyone who is interested in joining the mailing list, to email If you join the mailing list, I can give you access to the main documents.

26 Oct '20

Poster for the OLSPN planning inquiry, Fairlawn Park area planning group. Sign up for updates.

26 Oct '20

If you want to catch up on the OLSPN school redevelopment story, the webcast of the Mayor and Cabinet meeting is a good start. Presentations are made by developers, objectors and Lewisham planning. Worth watching; actually, it’s a quite gripping 40 minutes.[02:00 - 42:00]

25 Nov '20

This evening, a public question was debarred fon being considered at the council meeting. This was on the entirely phony grounds that I had already received the answer. The question was:

“Please can you detail capital payments made to the Archdiocese of Southwark’s Education Commission, to deliver the OLSPN school redevelopment? Funding was provided by the Council to the Diocese up front, allowing them to engage contractors, and deliver the scheme.”

Not only are they refusing to answer, as they have for two years now, but they have been frankly hostile to all questions. When somebody is that reluctant to speak, it draws the eye, and begs the question, what have they got to hide?

In order to improve the school building stock in Lewisham, the Archdiocese applied to consolidate infant and junior schools into new primary schools on single sites. They proposed to consolidate OLSPN and St Winifred’s schools onto single sites as new Primary schools. This would also allow the Archdiocese to sell the two redundant infant school sites for lucrative housing deals.

To enable this plan, in May 2016, The Mayor & Cabinet approved a contribution of £6.1m of capital funding towards these expansion works. “The Archdiocese is responsible for the delivery
of both schemes, subject to the terms of a Development Agreement between the Council and the Archdiocese due to be signed imminently.”

On 22 March, 2017, the Mayor & Cabinet approved a “Land Transfer to The Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Southwark for nil consideration for the duration of the lifetime of the school on that site.” This was the land on which the new classroom block was built, the old playground on the corner of Fairlawn Park.

OLSPN Mayow Road was sold for bids in excess of £4m.This means that with half the settlement, plus the money for the old Mayow Road Infants site, the Archdiocese had £7m to spend on the new OLSPN primary school, Sydenham Road. What happened to this budget? Have the pupils been given the school they deserve, using the schools own land and the public money granted for their school rebuild?

To be continued…

In the meanwhile, if you are an immediate neighbour of the school, email and sign up for updates on the planning inquiry process. Join in the group of concerned neighbours, who don’t trust Lewisham to see the planning inquiry properly informed. I can represent your concerns at the inquiry, and make sure the pupils get the school they deserve, and a visual improvement for us.

27 Nov '20

Thanks for continuing to keep us updated with the campaign, Julia.

There are some dodgy precedents being set by this development, and people (the Council, the Archdiocese and others) need to be held to account, especially when there’s public money at stake.

27 Nov '20

In case people haven’t heard about this, the very sad story of the proposed closure of Virgo Fidelis school, Norwood. Also run by the Archdiocese of Southwark’s Education Commission, its buildings owned by the Convent have been declared unfit, and most pupils have already been evacuated to other schools in Croydon and Elephant & Castle. The Education Commission told parents of the September intake to find other schools for them - at 3 weeks notice.

27 Nov '20

Blimey - how does that just suddenly happen. Clearly the buildings didn’t suddenly become ‘unfit of purpose’ with 3 weeks notice. That’s got to be hugely disruptive for families and schools.

Perhaps it is because Ofsted ‘paused’ site inspections during lockdown that these things haven’t been noticed - though why they couldn’t inspect facilities when the schools were closed I don’t really understand:

27 Nov '20

The best coverage is from Inside Croydon. It seems there is a long history of warnings about the state of the buildings, but the Convent /Archdiocese’s Education Commission failed to act until, eventually, Croydon Council took action. Its the same team who brought you the OLSPN problems. Sigh.

28 Nov '20

Meanwhile, back at OLSPN, the pupils don’t have enough playground space, and what there is is quite rough. Do the parents realise quite how much space has been screened off, and left derelict? To the right of the Home Park entrance, you can see this area, which would be a really useful amount of playground space. Why hasn’t the Archdiocese made it available?

Marked in purple is the cordoned-off area, as seen from above. It is almost the same area as the unfinished rooftop playground. Why are pupils unable to use this area, to ease overcrowding? Go and check it out for yourself, and see what you think.

3 Dec '20

Finally, a belated response of sorts to my EIR. I have been sent a copy of the OLSPN School Development Agreement, between @RC_Southwark & @LewishamCouncil. It confirms that the Council gave a £3m contribution to the Archdiocese for the rebuilding, in addition to the free land.

@LewishamCouncil has chosen to withhold their payment schedule, & the Archdiocese’s contributions, saying "it contains information which is both commercial and confidential in nature, & which, if disclosed, would cause harm to the Council’s & the Diocese’s legitimate economic interests.

I don’t know about you, but I think there is something distinctly odd about a local authority and a church enforcing secrecy to protect their commercial interests!

3 Dec '20

The £3m contribution from @LewishamCouncil, plus money raised from selling the infant school site for redevelopment (offers in excess of £4m, see sales brochure below), means that @RC_Southwark had at least £7m on hand to cover the cost of the new one-site OLSPN primary school.

3 Dec '20

@LewishamCouncil may be fighting to keep the details private, as the development agreement shows multiple grounds for getting a refund of their £3m. It therefore begs the question, why they didn’t use the agreement to insist that @RC_Southwark engaged properly with them? The pupils are being let down by both parties, in this asset stripping exercise.

I went to a drop in session with the Archdiocese’s ‘new’ team early last year. They were using a shortage of money as a reason for build quality issues. I asked - what about the money raised by selling the old infant school site on Mayow Road?

I was told ‘we need that money for elsewhere’. This is, and has been from the start, an asset stripping exercise. The Archdiocese wanted to amalgamate two sites into one, very sensibly, but wants to do it on the cheap, and take out as much capital as possible to be spent elsewhere. The pupils have lost out, the neighbours have lost out, and we have to live with the consequences.

4 Dec '20

Highlights of the extremely long development agreement for OLSPN school. Highlighted passages show that the Archdiocese is responsible for the entire running of the development, but are obliged to follow guidelines.

They have to repay the entire £3m to Lewisham Council if they fail in any one of the stipulations, including:
Complete by the end of August 2018(!)
Ensure the building complies with quality regs.
Keep the council updated on progress, and provide access to documents and the site on request. Etc etc etc…

11 Dec '20

The OLSPN saga gets more and more bizarre.

Lewisham Council paid £3m to the Archdiocese of Southwark, to fund OLSPN school’s redevelopment. This was under an agreement made between the Archdiocese and Lewisham’s Directorate of Children and Young People.

C&YP FAILED to give a copy of the legal agreement to Lewisham’s planning team. Lewisham’s legal team had drawn up a lovely agreement with excellent clauses to ensure compliance with regulations, but FAILED to make this available to planning. Neither team forgot it, both legal and C&YP refused to disclose it, even under FOI requests, TWO YEARS AGO!

None of this excuses the Archdiocese of Southwark’s refusing to follow the development agreement they signed. They could, and should have been subject to the penalties the agreement contains, that is, they should have refunded the £3m to Lewisham. The huge distress and disruption to pupils and neighbours could have been avoided, had we not had a council, apparently re-enacting the War of the Roses.

11 Dec '20

This is where the OLSPN story intersects with the NDA payments story. Last financial year saw two executives leave Lewisham Council, one by retirement and one by resignation. We now have new executives in charge of Lewisham Legal, and of C&YP.

Were the leavers’ financial packages supplemented by NDA agreements? And are NDAs making it more difficult to allow public scrutiny of the OLSPN case? Did Lewisham bind itself to stay silent about this mess?

18 Dec '20

A belated FOI request has trickled in. I’m not surprised by the content, but I can see why they are fighting so hard to withhold this information.

To be clear, the Development agreement that the Archdiocese signed, in return for £3m funding from Lewisham, makes them entirely responsible for the development, and its quality control. The Archdiocese chose to use their own building control firm, and to exclude Lewisham officers from these aspects of the build. However, the agreement gave Lewisham the right to inspect the documentation and the site, given prior notice and so on. Lewisham could have checked on what our money was being spent on. That £3m, along with the £4m minimum raised by the Archdiocese on the sale of the Infant school site on Mayow Road meant that funding should not have been an issue.

So, neither the Schools Health & Safety advisor, nor the council structural engineer were asked to do any checks in advance of the juniors moving in 16/4/2018, NOR DID THEY VISIT DURING THAT FIRST TERM. No visits at all happened to the site until Viv Evans took charge as Head of Planning.

The entire council involvement is from the Capital Programme Delivery Team. If they knew of the school’s intentions to transfer the juniors on 16/4/2018, it is extraordinary that they made no site visits in the SIX WEEKS before this date. The Capital Programme Delivery Team held the building agreement, without disclosing the details to planning, who could have used its clauses to bring the development into line.

23 Dec '20

For their 2019 appeal against planning enforcement, the Archdiocese of Southwark submitted a large number of letters from OLSPN pupils, claiming them to be petitioning against enforcement.

Having got access to scanned copies (all identities redacted), I saw they were articulate witness statements to the pupils’ own experiences of the new buildings in use. Here are some extracts, with my transcriptions.

23 Dec '20

Blimey, it’s hard to imagine what can be so difficult to get these poor children some blinds. I mean, I know there are a lot of windows, but it can’t be that expensive to get some blinds fitted :frowning:

23 Dec '20

The problem with glare is because the windows were fitted incorrectly. They were supposed to be inset with deep reveals, which should have incorporated soundproofed ventilation panels. Instead, they fitted cheap windows flush with the facade, which lack the shade the reveals would have provided. They say - too expensive. I say - whatever happened to the £7m plus kitty?!

23 Dec '20

Actually, since people keep demanding solutions… to the mess I first pointed out in July 2017!

A sensible intervention would involve resetting the windows back, creating the missing reveals. It would mean losing the internal window sills, but would allow for the windows to be better shaded, and the approved ventilation system installed. It would improve the visual effect of the building, and combined with a complete rethink of the cladding and roofline, it might just work. Spend that £7m on sorting out the mess the Archdiocese created.

29 Dec '20

Joy to the world. On Christmas eve, the responsible Lewishambles officer told me that, due to COVID-19 striking the Archdiocese’s agent, the planning inquiry’s statement of common ground hadn’t been progressed. That means there has been no agreement on how to limit the scope of the inquiry, or to save time by agreeing some things in advance.

Covid is grim, and my sympathies go to anyone who catches it. This does not explain, however, why no progress was made in the last year, and why it has all been left until days before the ultimate deadline. There has been plenty of time, and absolutely no progress made by either the Archdiocese, or the Lewisham team.

24 Jan '21

The OLSPN planning inquiry will be held online, on 9th and 10th February. Just over two weeks to go now until it starts. The Appeal documents are now all online; search the Lewisham planning website for DC/19/111793.

If you’d like more information, and have any objections you would like to be represented at the inquiry, please email

7 Feb '21

Well, only two days until the inquiry starts, at 10am on Tuesday, and if anyone wants to listen in, please email Eleanor Morris at and ask for the link.

Several of you have wanted to know the schedule: it’s all still to be determined. The Archdiocese is trying to postpone the whole inquiry, but the Inspector has decided to open on Tuesday, and negotiate the legal technicalities then. It will run on all day Tuesday, and probably all day Wednesday.

At that point there will be an adjournment, as the Archdiocese is running so many different arguments that it’s been agreed to need a four day inquiry. The second two days are to be confirmed, some time in March.

Tuesday promises to be a lively event, so do log in for half an hour to get a flavour of it. Would you believe, the Archdiocese and Lewisham only registered the bulk of their evidence in the last week!

8 Feb '21

Rejoice! Less than 24 hours before the OLSPN planning inquiry opens, the core documents have been uploaded onto the Lewisham planning website. Search for DC/19/111793, and you will find the treasure trove. The top documents are the most recent, so start from there.

I am trying to get Lewisham to webcast the inquiry, so people can catch up at their convenience. E-enquiries have frequent unscheduled breaks, and people can’t necessarily attend at the specific times. If you think it’s a good idea, please email a Councillor now. The planning inspectorate is OK with it, but both Lewisham and the Appellants would have to agree before it was possible.

9 Feb '21

Well, the inquiry opened this morning, and is now adjourned until 16th to 19th March. Very frustrating to have more delays, but it is cautious and therefore sensible. Belt and braces ruling from the Inspector.

18 Feb '21

Now they are all in the public domain, I can start putting evidence for the OLSPN Inquiry online.

Pupils’ parents are understandably frustrated by the unfinished building, as are the neighbours. The Archdiocese stopped all major work on the school in mid 2019, and decided to appeal instead of continuing work.

This email shows that Lewisham reassured them in January 2020, that they could finish cladding the Hall building, and install the metal fins during the 2020 Easter holidays. The Archdiocese has chosen to leave it unfinished, and ignore the best interests of the pupils.

This document is Appendix 10 (p. 60) of the Statement of Common Ground between Lewisham and the Archdiocese.
Core document CD-46B - SoCG Appendices.pdf

20 Feb '21

At OLSPN, the pupils don’t have enough playground space, and what there is is quite rough. Do the parents realise quite how much space has been screened off, and left derelict? It is outlined in purple on the satellite photo. To the right of the Home Park entrance, you can see this area, which would be a really useful amount of playground space. It was used to stack materials for the builders, but they stopped all work in mid 2019, so why hasn’t the Archdiocese made it available?

Don’t blame Lewisham for your children’s poor school experience… The Archdiocese refuses to allow Lewisham officers into the site, even in the holidays, so they can’t check on the site standards.


21 Feb '21

A hugely important problem, not previously identified, is the structure of the OLSPN rooftop play area. The hall building is over 1m too high, but the developers have also gained extra ceiling height by pushing the structure up into the area intended for the roof playspace.

The first image is of the original, permitted design, showing sheltering concrete walls surrounding it, ‘windows’ allowing the pupils views through the screen of fins. It looks as if the wall would have been about 5’ high.

The second shows a section through the Hall’s modular concrete structure; the playground walls are shown as thick as the main external walls. These walls serve several purposes; they shelter the area from wind and driving rain. This makes the space warmer and usable even on cold days. The concrete walls would store hear from sunlight. They also act as acoustic barriers, limiting noise disturbance. As an outdoor classroom, allowing the teacher to be heard clearly is vital. The walls also protect neighbours from being disturbed by noise from lively playtimes.

Unfortunately, the developers’ decision to annex the space in favour of ceiling heights mean that the wall has gone. It has been replaced in their new plans by a weldmesh ball fence, with a 20cm solid skirting around the base.

Given the wider spaced fins and the lack of shelter, it is unlikely to be the asset that was intended. Windswept and noisy, cold and a nervous experience for anyone with vertigo…

22 Feb '21

The OLSPN school scheme, which gained planning permission in 2016, looked so idyllic. Biodiversity was to be at the heart of learning, and playgrounds were to be full of trees and greenery.

Slender birch trees, wild cherry and oak were to provide shade and beauty, as well as habitats for wildlife. Bird and bat nest boxes would enhance this environment. It seemed a fair return for the loss of the dense hedge along the street boundary, where colonies of small birds nested, and sang constantly.

This soon changed, and this letter is one part of the exploration. The soil samples had proved to be so toxic that the ground was to be all hard surface; planting was confined to deep pits, lined with protective membranes, and filled with imported clean soil.

It is hard to know what the Archdiocese’s current intentions are. The vast number of conflicting documents leave room for doubt. The most recent plan for soft planting, seen below, shows planting only in the fenced compound outside on the corner of Fairlawn Park and Sydenham Road. Does this document displace the earlier plans of playground trees? I don’t know for sure, but am concerned.

Are we to be left with the current ecologically sterile environment? The only green is AstroTurf. The green roofs have not happened, nor do the bird or bat boxes appear to have been installed. The promised Eden comes down to a few bedding plants in small containers.

23 Feb '21

The entrance to the OLSPN school nursery on Fairlawn Park is another example of the current building failing to deliver the promised purpose.

The 2016 permitted scheme used the break between the two sections to form the entrance. Wide double gates allowed parents within a sheltered area to wait for their child to be ready to go home. A transparent canopy sheltered the entrance; bold signage faced the gateway, under which was a bike and scooter rack.

Contrast that with what was actually built. A narrow single gate makes an awkward entrance with serious social distancing problems. Straight ahead is an air conditioning unit in place of the bike and scooter rack. It is clearly awkward to use the compound to wait, as parents queue up outside, on the narrow pavement.

Looking at the plans, the reason for the compound’s failure as a waiting area is clear. The decision to site two service boxes within it has intruded into the space. What was previously a narrow hedge is replaced by planting flanking the large service box, taking up half the depth of vital space. The hardstanding is reduced to a narrow path, providing access to the services doors.

So, the purpose of the compound is abandoned. The narrow pavement is used for queuing, with parents and accompanying toddlers exposed to exhaust fumes. It would have made more sense to open the area up as pavement with benches, and contributed to the streetscape.

Without a bold, welcoming entrance, the nursery block is an inexplicable lump. A metre too high, it dominates the streetscape; it seems disrespectful to ask parents to queue at what appears to be a back door. An exciting design has been bodged, and the pupils and their families appear to be seen as being of little importance.

24 Feb '21

A major feature of the 2016 planning permission was that OLSPN’s main entrance gate should be situated within Home Park. This was to encourage families to spend time in the park, and to protect those waiting at the school gate from exposure to exhaust fumes.

To make the park entrance more welcoming, planning condition 18 required the Archdiocese to supplement the park infrastructure. This included lighting, litter bins, and soft planting along the paths to Sydenham Road, and to Winchfield Road.

Condition 18a states that plans for these works must be approved in writing by Lewisham before the development starts. 18b says that the works should be fully implemented before the school moves in. The development started in July 2017, and condition 18a was approved (two months late) in September 2017. Condition 18b, however, is still outstanding; the school moved into the new building in April 2018, so the condition is two years and ten months overdue.

It is hard to see why this condition has not been resolved. The park boundary could have been planted, the lights and bins installed, at any point regardless of issues with the main building. The work would not need to be redone if the main building is worked on. This condition is not particularly expensive, and could have been discharged long ago, if the Archdiocese had had the will.

The Archdiocese has repeatedly promised the work was imminent; most recently, its delivery was promised before September 2020. It would have been a sign of good faith to follow through with this; the planting could have been done on the park side of the boundary, to avoid the expensive precautions for planting within the grounds. By this time, the fence could have been smothered in honeysuckle and clemetis, and the playground would not be entirely open to view from the park.

25 Feb '21

The approved 2016 scheme’s Design & Access statement describes the architects’ process in settling on the most appropriate form for this important site. It describes the scaling the school’s size and bulk to neighbouring buildings, and design elements adopted from the architecture of the church. The pitch of the gables was chosen in this way.

What was actually built is very different. It is overscale, too high, and with a completely different roof structure, which is the focus of this post.


The teaching block’s design suggested a block of six ‘houses’, with pitched roofs. This allowed for lots of rooflights and solar panels, while reducing the apparent size of the building. Now, however, the attractive design has been substituted with a flat roof with fewer roof lights or ventilation, and fake gables stuck on the north and south aspects, with no attempt to make the look realistic. The lack of a ridge line to each gable gives it a comical cut-out 2-D look.

The original design showed the same material (concrete / fiberglass panels) cladding the facade, and smoothly continuing up the roof slopes. The eye would be drawn upwards to the sculptural roofline, the patterns shifting in view you walk past, as different slopes come into view. Instead, as built, the cut-out gables stuck on top look ridiculous; the lack of ridge lines, and roof slopes, make the fakery obvious.

26 Feb '21

It’s a beautiful sunny day, so I am taking photos of the OLSPN School, looking its very best. They show the roofline from angles that show the gables as being fake.

Arrow no. 1 shows the false roof slope on the Fairlawn Park aspect. It doesn’t quite reach the ridge line, but it gives some 3-D sense to the gable.

Arrow no. 2 points to the total lack of roof slopes on the other gables.

This is the view from Home Park, the main entrance to the School. The facades may look passable on paper to someone who has never been here, and has no intention of doing so. Sadly, this visually illiterate aspect, along with many others in the OLSPN School’s whole sorry mess, will not be improved by any of the schemes on offer at the Planning Inquiry.


27 Feb '21

The same visual illiteracy of the missing ridge lines is on display from both directions on the Sydenham Road.

In contrast, a recent building further up the road shows how it should be done. Zanara Court, 24 Sydenham Road, SE26 5QW.

28 Feb '21

It’s not just the distance view that makes the OLSPN building overbearing. As a pedestrian, walking next to it is dispiriting, with the fabric already looking shabby.

Turning into Sydenham Road, the window sills are already damaged, and there are clearly problems with the junction between window sills and the cladding.

The reflective film on the ground floor windows provides the offices with privacy, but it also acts as the architect’s one gesture towards reflecting the surrounding area.

1 Mar '21

What could the Archdiocese have done in the 1 year and six months since they decided to cease all work onsite, in hopes that Lewisham would give them retrospective permission for the breaches?

As I set out previously, they could have given the Hall building its permanent cladding, and screen of fins, as Lewisham gave them permission to do so during the Easter holiday last year. Nothing happened. Summer holidays? Nothing happened. Etc.

While the trees and the bulk of the planting will have to wait until the ground contamination paperwork is produced, the boundary screening plants could have been delivered.

The fence on the Home Park Side is due to be planted with climbing honeysuckle and a hedge of hornbeam. This would have put on growth by now, and starting to soften the outlook. If the contamination paperwork was too onerous for the Archdiocese to deliver in time, then the planting could have been done on the park side. Permission would have been given for this, as it would not take up significant space in the park.

The Fairlawn Park aspect should also be screened by climbing plants according to the 2016 permitted scheme. Since then, another design has been put forward, as part of the s73 scheme which is being appealed at the planning inquiry. This replaces honeysuckle and clematis with a hedge of green and red foliage. The climbing plants could have been established by now.

The Archdiocese is appealing to keep its security lighting on the street facades, even though they are brightly lit by street lights. They haven’t even switched them off pending the inquiry ruling, so they blare away, pointlessly. It feels like a demonstration that the Archdiocese will not make even the slightest concession, but are holding out for everything they want.

13 Mar '21

On Tuesday, 16 March at 10am, the OLSPN planning inquiry opens. It is a virtual Inquiry on MS Teams; you can watch it by emailing Eleanor Morris to ask for the Teams link at

To see the latest positions of both sides, you can see them online by searching Lewisham’s planning website for DC/19/111793. The most recent documents are at the top, and the must-read documents are the rebuttals, with publication dates 9 March and 25 February. Don’t bother with the appendices, just the six Rebuttals; James Hughes, Nick Hayhurst, Rule 6, Richard Matthews, Sean McGrath, and Simon Hughes.

I’m quite amused that the Appellants haven’t rebutted much at all of the Rule 6 (my) proof of evidence, after the constant accusations of lying flung at me.

I’d be really grateful if anybody who follows the planning inquiry could try and take notes, or, if possible, proper minutes. I will take notes, but there will be chunks of it when I can’t. Lewisham Council has refused to stream it, or even make an archive recording of the inquiry, presumably because they want to hide the evidence of their incompetence. There’s a lot to hide.

19 Mar '21

Well, we’re at the fourth day of this gruelling and gripping inquiry. It is going to overrun, and a fifth day will have to be scheduled. The Inspector is due to do her site visit early next week, and is trying to fix the fifth day in the next couple of weeks. Lots of people have attended, including Grainne Cuffe, the local Democracy reporter from the News Shopper.

It has been a pretty extraordinary show; Alderman Greg Jones, QC for the Archdiocese has used an interesting ploy, in being rude and dismissive of not only his opponents, but also the Inspector’s authority. He has said to her that he intends to challenge her decisions elsewhere - presumably the High Court.

Yesterday, we had our opportunity to present our case. Cllr Chris Best made a very strong statement about the extent of concern locally about the building, and the councillors’ response. I presented our case, A Sydenham Society planning committee member spoke on a personal basis, and Cllr Alan Hall (Bellingham) spoke for the Home Park aspect.

By far the greatest impact, though, was made by a resident from Explorer House, with live footage of the view from her windows. This made a real impression, and was referred back to several times. Her sensitive comments on the issues of privacy, balanced with design quality, was incredibly important. It has been a huge feeling of relief, being able to have our say, and be heard. There is no doubt that the inquiry is in no doubt about what we have been through.

Today, the Archdiocese continues its case, and is likely to be lively. First up is Simon Hughes, the Director of the Education Commission. His speech at the Mayor and Cabinet meeting was so intemperate, it made a very poor impression. I look forward to his evidence being challenged by Lewisham’s brilliant barrister, which he’s unlikely to take well. Then Matthew Ringham the headteacher, and finally Sean McGrath, the Archdiocese’s agent.

If you have time, line up the popcorn and settle back for a gripping show, which is deciding our future.

24 Mar '21

The Planning Inspector made a site visit to OLSPN yesterday, walking around, and looking at views of it from different vantage points.

Tomorrow, the inquiry resumes for its fifth day sitting, with the evidence of Sean McGrath, planning agent for the Archdiocese of Southwark. It may be necessary to extend for a sixth day, as there is a lot to get through before the inquiry concludes.

12 May '21

The Planning Inspector has dismissed both appeals by the Archdiocese of Southwark, against enforcement by Lewisham Council. The full report is available on the Lewisham planning website, search for DC/19/111793.

12 May '21

Decision document: DC_19_111793-APPEAL_DECISION-994286.pdf (189.5 KB)

13 May '21

I have gone over the ruling, and my (totally non-expert) observations are, that this is really bad news for the Archdiocese. If you delete from the enforcement notice all the text the Inspector says, they are left with the bald statement that they must make the building conform to the original plans.

They seem to have lost all the concessions that Lewisham has made over the years, because they pushed to have the notice thrown out entirely because it was ‘ambiguous’. Any ambiguity has been removed, but it is a poor outcome for them.

Is there anyone who actually knows about planning and willing to look at the document? I am very aware of the need to avoid muddying the waters.

13 May '21

Presumably now the Archdiocese will have to comply with the previously issued enforcement notice, which can be found among the 325 documents attached to the planning case… to save you the time finding it, the enforcement notice is here:

DC_19_111793-APPENDIX_2_-_ENFORCEMENT_NOTICE.-960701.pdf (281.6 KB)

13 May '21

They will have to comply, and they stressed in the inquiry that they appreciated that from this point onwards, a refusal to follow the Inspector’s rulings would open the Archdiocese personnel up to criminal charges. Their final appeal is to the High Court.

When you look at the notice, remember that the Inspector has varied it so Option A now reads:
“Construct the school in accordance with the approved 2016 scheme (DC16/096041) dated 7 October 2016” The following text in Option A, and the whole of Option B has been deleted by order of the Inspector.

The period for compliance with the requirements is 21 months

13 May '21

Absolutely hilarious to see that @RC_Southwark have just blocked me on twitter. I’d be grateful if any posts they make about the OLSPN situation could be screenshot and posted here.

Talk about godly behaviour…

13 May '21
14 May '21

At least some people were appreciative of your efforts :heart:

17 May '21

The Inspector has issued their judgement on costs, and it is available online. The Archdiocese’s application for costs has been refused.
The Inspector judged that:

22 May '21

As a regular passer by (hopefully soon to live in SE26). It’s certainly an eye sore. An unfinished finished look. I agree with pupil who said it’s like a factory and perhaps poor value for money.

I was wondering how such a building could be allowed on a high street, and apparently it isn’t! So well done residents, let’s hope the pupils now get a school they can be proud of inside and outside the gates.

24 May '21

Oh Lord.

The Archdiocese of Southwark is now refusing to accept the Planning Inspector’s ruling, and plan to challenge it.

‘The archdiocese said it would work with the school and independent experts and legal advisors “to consider the appropriate responses including a legal challenge”. It would also try to work with Lewisham to achieve an agreed solution.’

Yet again, this means more delay, uncertainty and stress for parents, and no improvement in the pupils’ environment. No attempt to explore the nearby decant option at The Bridge. The pupils welfare seems to score far below personal and corporate pride.

Parents need to question the Archdiocese’s actions, and not simply accept their narrative. Are they doing their best for your child?

24 May '21

Yuck, but isn’t this what their QC said he’d do?

Presumably any further challenge will eventually end up costing even more money - either to Lewisham or the Archdiocese or both. Such a shame to be wasting time and money like this - I wish they could just get on and make good on the school.

24 May '21

Yes, the Alderman made it clear that was his tack, but I couldn’t help hoping that the Archdiocese would start thinking about their pupils’ welfare. Where will they go after judicial review? At what point do they accept that they’ve done the wrong thing, and need to put things right?

It emerged at the planning inquiry that the Archdiocese of Southwark’s Education Commission has no clear oversight. Its director, Dr Simon Hughes, was unable to name his line manager. In the end, he said he was under the authority of a very senior archdiocesan committee. With no clear line of supervision, a Director is allowed to act independently. This fiasco has stretched across three Directors (including one temporary Director), so perhaps a lack of continuity in direction may have contributed to the mess.

I hope that parents can see that this further delay is down to the Archdiocese, and push them to come to a compromise with Lewisham. By overreaching at the inquiry, they threw away the huge concessions they had already been offered by Lewisham, who were desperate to find a resolution. Those offers have been removed by the Inspector’s judgement, so we are back to square one. The longer they refuse to admit they are subject to the law, the more disruption and distress they will cause.

9 Jun '21

Just when you thought it was safe to go back in the water… the Archdiocese strikes again. They are seeking judicial review of the planning Inspectorate’s decision on OLSPN school. Lewisham Council has been served as a second respondent, but the appeal is against PINS, so Lewisham would be grateful if you don’t besiege them about it.

I have no idea what the Archdiocese thinks they can gain from this, but it is absolutely certain that the decision will have a terrible effect. It will create further stress and uncertainty for the families who trust them with their children’s education.

10 Jun '21

Information on Judicial Review