Fairlawn Park Planning Appeal Group - OLSPN planning inquiry

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

fairlawnparkplanning@gmail.com

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…

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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.

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.

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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.

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.

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.

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.

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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.

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.

Close neighbours of OLSPN school who are interested in getting improvements made, email fairlawnparkplanning@gmail.com

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

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!

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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 planning@lewisham.gov.uk, 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.

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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.

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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 fairlawnparkplanning@gmail.com. If you join the mailing list, I can give you access to the main documents.

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

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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]

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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 Fairlawnparkplanning@gmail.com 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.

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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.

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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.

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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: https://www.gov.uk/guidance/ofsted-coronavirus-covid-19-rolling-update

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