In a virtual county planning committee meeting today that you can follow live online here, I’m going to be opposing the planning application for a new secondary school in Kidnappers Lane, Leckhampton.
Although I’m not arguing against a school in principle – there is provision made for a school in the area in local plans already – I am sceptical about the need for it. Only a few brief paragraphs of ‘educational rationale’ have been provided to today’s committee and I fear that if the school proves as popular as Balcarras, it may just ‘poach’ admissions from nearby Bournside and parents hoping to close the notorious ‘Leckhampton Corridor’ may still find themselves more than a mile from all local schools and so still unsure of getting their kids into any of them.
But my main objections are on grounds of biodiversity loss, landscape impact and the poor design of the school building. I also support Leckhampton with Warden Hill Parish Council’s strong opposition on air quality and traffic grounds.
Last year the county council voted to protect biodiversity in the county in a full council motion. But their own chief ecologist in his report to today’s committee says the application “could be refused on biodiversity grounds alone”. Another expert ecologist report to the committee todays predicts “net loss of habitat units down to -56.69%” even with parallel increases in hedgerows nearby and other mitigation measures without which the habitat loss would have been nearly total (-95%).
The reports catalogue a huge diversity of species on the site including at least 11 bird species and 10 bat species – both protected from habitat disturbance by law – with 9 trees lost if the application proceeds and 3o more affected, one hedgerow lost completely and others damaged and the important brook habitat that runs the length of the site infiltrated by floodlighting which could disturb hibernating bats when the floodlighting is used in winter, causing them to wake and starve.
Turning to landscape sensitivity, this is something that has been highlighted by successive Planning Inspectors and reports over decades, agreeing to protection for the Leckhampton fields area’s “special historical, landscape and amenity value” and “attractive pastoral character.. linked strongly into the landscape of the AONB”. In 2012 the Gloucester, Cheltenham & Tewkesbury Joint Core Strategy (JCS) landscape report considered the area a “valuable landscape resource” with ”a good brookline and associated tree cover” and gave parts of the application site the highest category of landscape and visual sensitivity. Many local and national planning policies instruct planning authorities to protect valued landscapes but this application and design does not do that, placing a huge “office block’ design into this sensitive local landscape.
The square urban “office block” design of the proposed school building is a major problem with the application, especially in such a highly rated landscape area.
Local plans also specifically protect the views into and out of the neraby Cotswold Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. This site is very prominent in iconic views from within the AONB at Leckhampton Hill and the building proposed would stick out like a sore thumb.
Buildings, even large buildings, can be placed in sensitive locations. Think of how the radical, environmentally-friendly design of Gloucester Services on the M5 blends into the Severn Vale landscape. But this building won’t.
So for all these reasons, I’m opposing the planning application today. You can read my full comment and written objection document online here. Enter reference 19/0058/CHR3MJ.