Friends of Putney Common respond to
Councillor Tracey’s open letter
Dear Councillor Tracey,
Defending the indefensible is a skill that many politicians have to master. Your “open letter” to residents is a good example of how a seemingly reasonable presentation of the current situation regarding the development at the former Putney Hospital site has been skewed to misrepresent both the views of many residents and also the facts as they apply on the ground. I’m afraid this time your attempt to justify the Council’s plan is less than successful. Let me demonstrate why this is the case by taking quotes from your letter and providing clear answers.
“… we would like to build a new primary school on the derelict former hospital site on Putney Common.”
Good, so would many residents. What we object to is the size and scale of the school proposed, the need to build a block of flats to partially finance the scheme and the plan to build access roads on land designated as Common. There are also many other alternatives which would suit the restricted nature of the 0.5 hectare island site much better, not least the suggestion that it is better suited to a residential home for the elderly.
“… the development of this new school has been held up by a lengthy legal challenge against the proposed access road to the site.”
In fact there have been two legal challenges to the High Court, one concerning the lack of an EIA and the other the access roads. Before that the Council itself had to revise its own application numerous times. The decision made in the High Court relating to the powers of the Conservators to allow private access roads on the Common is being taken to appeal, and is not at an end. The planning permission has numerous flaws and may well be challenged.
“… I would like to provide some reassurance that everything possible is being done to expand the number of places in Putney to meet growing demand.”
This seems somewhat disingenuous bearing in mind the Council has sold many potential school sites over recent years which were “surplus to educational requirements”. Recent examples of Council facilities being sold include the Westleigh Lodge Care Home to Barratt, the playing fields at Ark Academy also to Barratt and Chellow Deve Mental Health Hostel sold to Prospect House. There are other examples too numerous to list here. Of course finding new sites for schools is challenging. However developers seem to find plenty of opportunities to build new residential buildings, why can’t the Council be similarly imaginative with schools?
“… It has also become a real blot on the landscape at the heart of the common.”
This is the fault of firstly the Wandsworth Primary Care Trust and now the Council who have owned the site for many years. If you had suggested a suitable development it would not stand as it does now a partially demolished (by the Council) eyesore.
“… we would not wish to do anything that harms this important local amenity.”
Why then propose building roads on it? The Council’s scheme is demonstrably over-intensive on numerous grounds: traffic, parking, pollution, lack of space for a play area at ground level, poor architecture and much else besides. It depends for its existence on the access roads.
“… The latest figures suggest that every year as many as 45 more children living in Thamesfield ward alone would face the prospect of having no school place near their homes if the school were not built. We have a legal duty to provide a place for every child in the borough and one of our top educational priorities is to make sure as many children as possible get into the school they most want to go to. A new school on the Putney Hospital site is vital to making this possible.”
As in previous claims about the need for places in Thamesfield you ignore your own statistics. The demand for places is falling in the coming five years, the birth rate in Thamesfield is static. The school place projections made by the Council over the last five years have been shown to be inflated when measured against actual numbers recorded. Existing schools have been able to provide sufficient places with over 70% of parents receiving an offer from their school of choice. The biggest factor in generating demand is “housing yield” from new developments being built at the other end of the ward. Putney Hospital is on the very edge of the Borough, the least suitable site for a new school.
“… It has also been implied that the council is planning to build an entirely new road across the common to access the hospital site. That is also completely untrue. We are proposing to use just one of the existing access roads and, as the Judge made clear in his Judgment, this road would run “in part, upon land which was never part of the common and in part upon areas of the common which are currently under tarmac” with only a very small area of grass being covered over.”
This sounds plausible until one looks at the actual situation on the ground. The old hospital had overlapped on to land designated as Common. The Judge was incorrect; all of the land being used for the access road is Common. Gradually roads and car parks spilled over from the hospital on to what had been open and grassed - all of this should revert to Common apart from a road directly to the front of the site. The Council owns less than 50% of the “application site”, the rest is Metropolitan Open Land. The ‘very small area of grass’ is the new coach turnaround being built on the Common – it is not small.
“… In fact, the school plan will return a large part of the current derelict site to open common land. Only a little over half of the land on which the hospital stands is needed for our proposals. The remaining part of this site, which is mostly covered in tarmac or buildings, will be grassed over and become an integral part of the green open space of the common.”
The Council is using 100% of the land it owns for new buildings, which have a longer footprint than the existing hospital. It is important to differentiate between the land on which the hospital buildings stand which is now owned by the Council (0.5 hectares), and the land surrounding it which is all designated as Common in the 1871 Act and registered at the Land Registry as being owned by the Wimbledon and Putney Conservators. Much of this is within the existing hoarding. This is the land which has always been Common, even if it was wrongly used for roads and car parks. The temporary licences, which allowed such use, were terminated when the site was sold to the Council. All of this area should be reconstituted. None of it should be used for a 100m long and 6m wide new road leading past the school to the underground car park for a block of flats and a coach turnaround, even if some of it had previously been tarmacked. In addition none of the existing common should be suburbanised with gravel paths, lights, mounds, bollards and barriers.
“… I have been in local politics long enough to know that getting everyone to agree to any major proposal is nigh on impossible and, as a council, we have to assess and balance competing views. We have listened respectfully to all sides of the argument, as has the High Court Judge, and we have concluded that the interests of the widest community are best served by moving ahead with the plan for a school on the hospital site and that is what we now intend to do.”
I do not believe you or the Council officials involved in this inappropriate scheme have “listened respectfully”. I would refer you to your own comments which incorrectly accused FofPC and myself of being against the building of any new schools in Thamesfield and being not “friends of parents”. Respectful? What have you done in the last 12 months? Have you consulted with residents? No, you have not. Have Councillors taken account of the 1,300 objections from residents against just 10 in support? No they did not. Or consider their legitimate concerns for the erosion of Putney Common? I’m afraid not. Have they seen the comments of the 200 or so contributors to the successful crowd-funding appeal to raise legal costs to challenge the Council? See www.justgiving.com/local/project/friendsofputneycommon.
It is time for both you and the Council to think again about how this key site on Putney Common can be used for the good of the community. We wait to hear from you how this might be achieved. The best politicians are those who listen to their electors.
Spokesman for Friends of Putney Common
20th December 2013