Divisive plan for two free schools on Rokeby Field approved

Dozens protested against the Rokeby schools plan in April NNL-170305-104751001
Dozens protested against the Rokeby schools plan in April NNL-170305-104751001

A controversial plan to build two free schools and sports facilities on Rokeby playing fields was approved today (Tuesday, August 8).

Councillors voted by seven to two to give outline planning permission for the secondary and special schools on public land off Anderson Avenue.

Campaigners, including many neighbours, fought against the proposal for months but committee members decided the need for school places outweighed the numerous reasons to reject it.

Sally Chant, chairman of campaign group Sustainable Hillside and Rokeby Education (SHARE), said the fight is not over but was disappointed by Warwickshire County Council regulatory committee’s decision.

“We are sad that the regulatory committee did not take our concerns over safety into account,” she said.

“We are also disappointed that the committee did not take account of the alternative site which already has planning permission on the radio site.

“SHARE’s focus will now move to vigorously pursuing our application for town green status for Rokeby playing fields.”

Committee members listened to hours of debate and speeches on the plan over two meetings before making their decision at Shire Hall.

The county council and Education Funding Agency jointly applied for permission to build an SEN and secondary schools, with sports pitches and associated parking, with access on the corner of Anderson Avenue and Long Furlong.

Councillors heard passionate speeches from SHARE and others in opposition, pointing out the numerous reasons it should be refused, and from the applicants on why it is a sound plan which is needed to supply enough school places.

After approving the plan in principle, the conditions will be discussed and approved, before the Secretary of State decides whether to call it in or not.

Committee chairman Bill Olner said: “We want the best possible conditions for the residents but they probably won’t be happy with the decision.

“But we have taken the decision and will leave it to the chairman and vice chairman to set conditions that will safeguard the residents in that area.”

A meeting a month ago kicked off proceedings but it was deferred to today to allow SHARE to consider a transport report submitted four days earlier.

SHARE argued it would be dangerous to put the single, main access to the schools on a blind bend, and people’s safety would be at risk as a result of increased traffic.

But the highways consultant disagreed saying there would be no unacceptable adverse effects on transport, but three traffic calming measures will be put in on three junctions and three crossings will be installed on Dunchurch Road.

Cllr David Shilton was concerned about there not being any crossing by the school, and insisted sprinklers should be installed in light of the Grenfell Tower disaster.

Most details will be decided at a later date when a reserved matters application is made, but the principle of two schools with sports facilities and some open space kept for the public has been approved.

A county council spokesman said: “School planning officers at Warwickshire County Council welcome the decision of regulatory committee to approve two new schools on the Rokeby site in Rugby.

“Rugby is in real need of school places and these two proposed schools will add much needed capacity in the area.”

In the past few months, numerous parents from Rugby Free Secondary School have shown their support for the proposal as they want to secure their children’s educational future.

Donna McCrae, who represents those parents, is confident the government will not overrule the council’s decision and was delighted with the councillors’ decision.

“This has been a long time coming so we’re ecstatic,” she said.

“But we’re not going to stop campaigning for the school until we see builders on the site and the school beginning to take shape.”