Chichester school starts controversial playing field work

A Chichester school has pressed ahead with its priority to provide a secure play area for pupils.

Central Junior School have brought in contractors to start fencing off an area of the Orchard Street playing fields, which have been at the centre of a community dispute since last summer.

The school announced plans in July 2010 to fence off part of the field to tackle increased dog fouling, antisocial behaviour and littering, but residents have feared their access and enjoyment of the site over the past 50 years is under threat.

In December 2010 Orchard Street and Old Somerstown Residents’ Association outlined an alternative plan for the field, by member and architect Julian Joy. It included sports facilities which could attract national funding.

But headteacher Andrew Goff said a safe play area was needed now.

“We have worked hard with residents and local councillors over the past few months and I am confident the scheme we have come up with provides enough space for the children’s present and future sports and play as well as leaving a significant area for community use,” he said.

“In late November, we were made aware of a new scheme put forward by residents to the county council which included proposals to apply for Sports Lottery funding for community facilities. While this sounds like an interesting proposal, we were disappointed to see it presented at this late stage and with no reference to ourselves.”

Mr Goff said the school had considered Mr Joy’s plans carefully but decided its best option was to go ahead with the scheme as agreed in November.

“In all of this, it is important to remember that safeguarding children is our highest priority,” he said.

After a public meeting in September, a working party was set up to reach a compromise over school and community needs. Mr Goff said at the last meeting in November all issues were resolved except for the size of the area to be enclosed.

He said: “It was agreed the school would look to reduce the proposed area as much as possible without comprising curriculum requirements, but otherwise the scheme would go ahead.”

He said the area to be fenced off had since been reduced by another 300 square metres, and everyone involved had been informed.

But chairman of the residents’ association, Dr Tim Rooth said residents were upset with the school’s stance and said the school had been ‘dictatorial’.

“The scheme we came up with was much more inventive and much more sympathetic in terms of the look of the area. We are very sympathetic to the children having a safe and secure area, we don’t wish to be indifferent, but it is a very under-used area.”

The school’s chairman of governors Allison Thorpe said it was paramount the children were able to use the field as soon as possible.

“In my experience, bidding for lottery funding is a lengthy process and our pupils need to be able use the playing field again as soon as possible.

“Parents would be dismayed if the children were unable to use the field again this term.

“If the county council wishes to pursue the idea of further facilities on the field in the future we will of course play our part and willingly take part in any discussions.”