You report a meeting at which Durand Academy’s plans for the St Cuthman’s site were presented at Stedham Memorial Hall, after, according to Durand’s representative, ‘every household in Stedham was leafleted’.
I live in Stedham and my house is one of the closest to the St Cuthman’s site. I was not leafleted and the first I knew of this meeting was your newspaper’s report.
A meeting on a matter of this importance to the area should not have taken place without a long notice period and more rigorous notification procedures. These are not difficult matters to get right but failing to get them right creates the impression of arrogance on the part of the developer.
That impression of arrogance is reinforced by looking at the Durand Academy website which already announces that the St Cuthman’s site will be operating as Durand’s boarding school in 2014.
The consultation and planning processes seem to be regarded as mere administrative steps rather than opportunities for local debate and decisions on a radical change to a part of our national park.
Further evidence of a disregard for local concerns is also clear from the website. The project has the support of the secretary of state for education and MPs from the Labour and Liberal Democrat parties. The Coalition government has apparently agreed to fund the project. There is no reference to planning, the national park or to any local concerns.
I am very familiar with the area of London from which Durand’s pupils come and I wholeheartedly support Durand’s educational aims.
However the fact that the chosen site is wholly unsuitable for a boarding school of the size proposed is an issue which its proponents seem ready to ignore.
Durand’s consultants, Greengage, have written that: “The proposed development will remain fully in accordance with its previous use as an educational facility.” This is as intelligent an argument as saying that a new hypermarket should be allowed because it is on a site where there was previously a corner shop.
Durand’s boarding school will be at least six times larger than the school previously on the site.
There is no doubt in the minds of those who know the area around St Cuthman’s that Durand’s boarding school will radically and irreversibly change it. Access to the St Cuthman’s site can only be achieved at the moment through narrow country lanes.
The volume of traffic which a 625-pupil boarding school will
create will overwhelm those
lanes. Upgrading the lanes to a standard suitable for that volume of traffic will destroy the character of the area.
So who will decide on the planning issues involved? The national park authority is required to carry out two statutory purposes:
1 To conserve and enhance the natural beauty, wildlife and cultural heritage of the area; and
2 To promote opportunities for the understanding and enjoyment of the parks’ special qualities by the public.
Where these purposes conflict conservation comes first.
In view of the high level support for the project from people outside the national park and whose interests do not seem to include the conservation and enhancement of the park, I look forward to seeing the national park authority vigorously defending the conservation of this part of the park.
It is perhaps timely to remember that another member of the Coalition government, the minister of state for decentralisation, introduced the Localism Act 2011 with the following words:
“We think that the best means of strengthening society is not for central government to try and seize all the power and responsibility for itself. It is to help people and their locally elected representatives to achieve their own ambitions. This is the essence of the Big Society.
“Instead of local people being told what to do, the government thinks that local communities should have genuine opportunities to influence the future of the places where they live.” St Cuthman’s will be a good test of where power really lies.