June 2010

Gardens to be greenfield once again

A couple of years ago I ran a petition, in an attempt to get the issue of garden grabbing higher up on the Council's agenda. I wanted the planning policies at Kingston to contain a presumption against housing developments on gardens, and indeed that is now being drafted into the new Local Development Framework.

But I knew it would always be a struggle, whilst the Government had decreed that domestic gardens were to be treated as brownfield (ie previously developed land) rather than greenfield (undeveloped) land. This was coupled with the pressure to build many more houses in London, and the tendancy of the Planning Inspector to overturn our decisions on that type of planning application.

The Somerset Avenue planning application became notorious. A proposal to demolish two semis and build seven new houses was approved by the Inspector in spite of strong objections from residents and councillors.

Now - at last - the coalition Government has decided to once again designate gardens as greenfield sites. This is great news, but not unexpected, given that both Conservatives and Liberal Democrats have been campaigning for this.

Sadly it comes too late for Somerset Ave and also for three much larger developments on Leatherhead Road which are already well underway. According to the BBC piece Kingston suffered more than most from this problem.

But this comment is telling:

"In effect it created a loophole for developers to build in city centres without meeting the needs of the people who live there."

That came from a spokesperson at the Department of Communities and Local Government. Increased garden development was an 'unintended consequence' of the rule which says that in any development of more than 15 houses a proportion of them must be social housing. So smaller sites, without a social housing quota, tended to be more profitable for developers than larger ones - and suburban gardens just fitted the bill. In fact, developers had an incentive to build on gardens instead of on brownfield sites such as old industrial estates. Madness!

Good to see that we've clocked up a very welcome policy change so soon into the coalition.

Respond to the consultation on the walk-in clinic

A consultation from NHS Kingston on the GP-led walk-in clinic dropped through my door today. I think it has gone out quite widely across the Chessington area.

It's very disappointing as it doesn't actually consult on the issues that are worrying people. It asks just four questions:

I would like to have:

  • a GP service that can be accessed without appointment
  • a GP service that can be accessed in an emergency
  • additional GP opening hours
  • more local services, eg blood tests and small wound treatment

How could anyone disagree?

What they seem to have forgotten is that there is general support for a GP-led walk-in clinic in the area. That's not the issue. The problem is the location.

There is a space for people to add further comments and I hope people will respond. But my fear is that NHS Kingston will find that most people have agreed with the four statements above, and will present that as evidence that the proposals are welcomed. Nothing could be further from the truth. Do they think we are fools?

Now I have to explain that NHS Kingston did share the draft consultation with a number of people, including me. My view, shared by others, was that it wasn't a consultation at all!

They did add some extra information to the sheet before it was sent out, but that has only caused me further confusion.

You see, at all the meetings I went to, we were told that NHS Kingston were setting up a new GP practice, with two GPs - one of whom would run a normal practice and the other would run the walk-in clinic. The consultation sheet says that they are commissioning one extra GP and nurse. What's the truth? Are they commissioning one GP in the short term while the new practice builds up? What is the long-term intention?

The final note on the sheet tells us that without the introduction of a new service 'a new building may not be affordable'. So at last we are told what is driving this - capital for a new building.

But this is very misleading. The Hook Clinic was offered to the two practices in Orchard Gardens so that they could have adequate space for the existing GPs. I think most residents registered with the practices would have been very happy if the two linked buildings had been refurbished, brought up-to-date, and then used to house the existing services.

Edward Davey suggested this solution to NHS Kingston over a year ago, and long before the walk-in clinic came into the picture. The idea of a new build was never discussed.

Many of us who got involved with solving the problem were very pleased when the Hook Clinic was offered to the existing GPs. And we were all gobsmacked when we heard some months later that the Hook Clinic was not going to be used for the existing practices at all, but for the extra service run by Malling Health, that is, the walk-in clinic.

Eventually there will be a planning application for a building on the whole corner site that will house three GP practices and a walk-in clinic. Now whereas the existing use could continue on the site, I have some doubts about whether the site will be judged by the planners to be large enough under modern standards. Just compare the size of the site with Merritt Gardens. The obvious shortfall will be in car parking which will be required for any new build.

Let's go back to where we were last year. Refurbish the Hook Clinic and Orchard Gardens buildings to provide decent accommodation for the Grays and Orchard practices. Keep looking for an alternative site for the GP-led walk-in clinic.

I know for a fact that one feasible site for the walk-in clinic - the Moor Lane Centre - has not been explored properly by NHS Kingston, even though the Council officers are willing to discuss it. There is scope for a new build on the already developed area at Moor Lane; the work place nursery was demolished a while ago so there is a strong argument in favour of an additional building somewhere on the site (not on the green field, of course).

What a mess and a muddle. Whatever your views, please make sure that you respond to the consultation this time, even if you have already told them in the past.

Knowledge is power - right?

I've had an article published today in the Local Government Chronicle. You can find it here.

(That is technically a googlewhack)

A new church secondary school for Kingston?

Everyone is hoping that the axe doesn't fall on the plans for a new secondary school in North Kingston. I think it highly likely that it will be funded by the Government since the pupil numbers now fully justify it. I hope I am proved right.

Several bodies are interested in running the new school, including the Church of England through the Diocese of Southwark. The Bishop of Kingston is endorsing their proposal on www.kingstonchurchschool.org.

Now you might think that I would be fully supporting such a proposal. After all, I am an active Anglican and was Chair of Governors of our local church primary school. But I am yet to be convinced that it is the right way forward in North Kingston.

I do understand, and have some sympathy for, the view that a Church of England secondary school in the borough would add choice for parents, and would complement the church primary schools. In fact, when I was the Executive member for Children's Services I was actively encouraging the Diocese to think about taking on and turning around the then failing Beverley Boys School. In the end nothing came of it, partly because the Head of the school, who was a Catholic, was not happy with the idea and the Governors supported him on that.

But North Kingston is a totally different situation. Parents have been campaigning for a new school for years, because the only school in the area is Tiffin Girls, which, as we all know, is selective and takes 75% of its pupils from outside the borough. I would happily convert Tiffin into a mixed comprehensive community school, but unfortunately that option is not available to Kingston Council. (Grammar schools can only change their admissions on a ballot, instigated by parents, of all the parents in the feeder schools, which means that the decision would effectively be taken by people who live outside the borough and who have every incentive to keep the grammar schools going in Kingston).

So back to the reality of the situation. Parents in North Kingston want a secondary school that serves them - all of them. A church school, however good and welcoming it might be, would not achieve that.

First, it would have an admissions policy that would give preference to children of church going families. It is not clear from the website what proportion of children would be admitted under this criterion, but I have heard that they are thinking of setting it at 20%. The remaining 80% of places would be offered to those living closest to the school.

Now I have a problem with the admissions policies of many church schools - and I'm talking about Anglican schools here. When parish schools were first set up in the nineteenth century their purpose was laudably to improve the life chances of all children. Over the years, the requirement to live in the parish became hardened into a requirement to attend church - so church schools began to look far less inclusive as church attendance reduced.

I would prefer all church schools to drop the religious criterion and simply admit children on the basis of geography.

The Diocese engages in other forms of social action without feeling the need to check the faith of the users. Many years ago I was on the Board of Kingston WelCare - an excellent organisation that provides social care to families. I'm sure that most of those families are completely unaware that WelCare is a charitable arm of the church. Through WelCare the Christian community serves the wider community, of all faiths and none, because that is what it should be doing.

Second, even if the new school did adopt a 100% community admissions policy, it would still not be acceptable to all parents. There are quite a few people who would not choose a church school, however open it might be, simply because it would conflict with their own beliefs and values. It is not enough to say that the school would be inclusive, as I am sure it would attempt to be; what matters here is the judgement that some parents would make that they do not wish their children to be educated in a church environment. Those parents would be severely disadvantaged if the longed-for school in North Kingston was one that they could not, in all conscience, use.

So reluctantly I cannot add my support ot the campaign for a church school for North Kingston.

I should end by mentioning that the Kingston Church School Appeal has been holding some public meetings so people can hear about the proposals and ask questions. The final meeting is on Tuesday 29th June at 7pm at Christ Church Primary, Elm Road, New Malden.

Published by Mary Reid, 126 Clayton Road, Hook Chessington KT9 1NJ
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