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Andy Beal: St Marks development concerns remain unaddressed

October 2, 2019 10:30 AM

Freemantle campaigner Andy Beal has shared his thoughts on the planned development of St Mark's C of E Primary School.

Andy Beal, Freemantle Field

"Along with many local residents, I attended the recent public consultation in regards to the plans to build a new all-through school for over 1300 children on the site currently occupied by St Mark's C of E Primary School.

Freemantle Liberal Democrats understand the pressing need to provide more secondary school places in Southampton and welcome the investment being made in the new facilities on the site. However, we feel that a number of areas regarding the proposed development raise concerns that have not been satisfactorily addressed by the plans submitted.

A major disappointment is the plan to exclude access to the Field for the general public. The Field has been a recreational area for over 100 years and when the land was earmarked for residential housing a community led group, spearheaded by determined local residents, successfully pressured the Council into issuing a compulsory purchase order on the land in 2012. Although the CPO was designated to provide sports pitches for educational use, the Council recognised the historic community use of the land.

The Friends of the Field, of which the Freemantle Liberal Democrats have proudly played a part, have worked tirelessly to encourage access to the Field and are passionate about promoting the continued public use of this asset.

As a local resident overlooking the Field, I have witnessed its ever increasing use by local residents. There are many dog walkers, people playing football and other sports, joggers and families enjoying the evening sunshine in an area where garden space is at a premium. I recently used the Field myself as a safe environment to teach my son to ride his bike. This increased use of the space by the community has had, in my opinion, a positive effect on anti-social behaviour, which is now a rarity on the Field.

Freemantle Liberal Democrats believe that a compromise must be found rather than closing the gates to this historic area, barring future generations of Southampton's young people from enjoying the Field and irreparably damaging community relations for years to come. Surely, there must be a solution, which would still allow the safe access to this much-needed green space to the wider community?

Another area of concern is the current plans for parking and traffic for the new school site. The roads around the current St Mark's School are frantic at drop-off and collection times. As a parent walking my child to the school, I have witnessed frustrated parents being verbally abusive, parking without any regard for the other children's safety (including on double yellow lines) and streets being jammed with traffic unable to move or pass each other. With such a dramatic increase in pupils, this is only going to get worse. Where are all of the teachers and learning support staff going to park? The current proposed car park appears to have only around 50 spaces. Without doubt, this will not be adequate for all of the teaching and support staff, which will mean that the streets surrounding will become congested with school-related parking.

With increased footfall into the proposed all-through school, the pedestrian access from Shirley High Street is also concerning. The nearest crossing to the school is at Foyes Corner. This currently has a pelican crossing with fairly long waits between short crossing times. How will all the children cross in time on such a busy road? Unfortunately, my fear is that children will be tempted to cross the busy road further up where there is no crossing and nothing to keep them safe. Especially since the proposed plan shows the entrance to the school near Nightingale Grove, halfway down the street from the crossing.

An additional worry is how parents will safely drop off and collect their children if they are travelling in a car. With the best will in the world, it is foolish to expect every child to come to school by walking or public transport, particularly during inclement weather. My fear is that there will be chaos on Shirley High Street as parents stop at the side of the road illegally or enter the bus lane. This obviously has the potential to endanger the children travelling to school by other means.

I believe that with the full engagement of the community, this new development could be mutually beneficial to Freemantle. However, there needs to be a major rethink regarding the plans and infrastructure required to facilitate the expansion to minimise the short- and long-term impact to residents and users of the area.

The future exclusion of the public from access to the Field is, in my opinion, a mistake and I believe the extent of the community's feelings on this issue have been grossly underestimated by those exhibiting the proposals and could drastically affect the perception of the whole project by local residents."

Andy Beal
Freemantle Liberal Democrats

Residents have until 4th October to submit their views, which they can do via the City Council website.

Freemantle Field