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Plans to expand Popley schools criticised
Buy this photo » Councillor Jane Frankum.
A BASINGSTOKE infant and junior school are set to expand in a £4million scheme to take in an extra 30 pupils in each year group.
Hampshire County Council showed off the plans at a public exhibition held at Merton Infant School, in Romsey Close, Popley.
But there was criticism from residents and Basingstoke North county councillor Jane Frankum, who said she knew nothing of the proposal until just a few days before the event.
She told The Gazette she heard about the expansion from a resident, and then took it upon herself to print off 600 leaflets to post to those living near the two schools informing them of the exhibition.
Cllr Frankum said: “If the county had involved us earlier, we could have given our ideas.”
She added: “I’m not against the expansion of the school because I want every child to get the best education, and a bigger school means more facilities. But it’s also important that everyone works together.”
Helen Palmer, headteacher of Merton Junior School, said the consultation process is the responsibility of the county council.
Various representatives from the council were at the exhibition, but they refused to explain or discuss the plans with The Gazette.
Miss Palmer said the expansion aims to accommodate an expected increase in pupil numbers coming from the new Merton Rise development, which is expected to include up to 784 new homes.
She added: “There will be not just classrooms being added but extra facilities as well.”
The plans will take the schools from a two-form entry to three, with space for up to 210 extra pupils across both schools.
The plans include a new, larger pre-school space, three classrooms, a library, area for supported learning and dance and performance studio in the infant school. The junior school will have four new classrooms and a studio.
It is hoped that the expansion will be approved and completed in time for the school to take more pupils in September 2015.
Councillor Roy Perry, leader of Hampshire County Council, said parents and those living within 50 metres of the school had been given the chance to take part in the process through a series of public exhibitions, and added that Cllr Frankum will be given a briefing.
Cllr Perry said: “This has been an open consultation but we obviously regret if anyone, not least a local councillor, does not feel they have been fully involved. We will rectify that. We also recognise there are inevitable local concerns but we must identify new school capacity.”
The council will now analyse the feedback and consider “fine-tuning” the plans before they are submitted.
Parking fears as schools grow
Some residents were not happy about the expansion plans because there are already problems with parents parking outside the school and blocking the roads.
Brian James, 68, from Fountains Close, Popley, has set up a petition to ask the school to allow parents to park on site.
The grandfather-of-six and father-of-three said: “We are getting our cars hit by people dropping off their kids.”
He said some parents were abusive when confronted about their parking, and added: “They won't be able to get the emergency services here.”
Mr James fears that extra children coming to the school will make the situation worse.
Rita Bathe, who has lived in Romsey Close for 33 years, said the parking situation is “intolerable.”
The 67-year-old mother-of-one added: “People used to walk their children to school but now they bring their children in the car and go to work. It's like a main road. There's no provision for parking or any yellow lines.”
Pointing out that parents park in front of driveways and block cars in, she added: “If you ask them to move their cars, you get abuse.”
In June, parents were warned in a letter about not driving on to the school premises after a child was hit by a car.
Headteacher Helen Palmer wrote to parents to say: “Thankfully, the child was uninjured on this occasion. It could have ended very differently.”
Speaking to The Gazette, she said: “It's a very difficult situation to be in when some parents inconsiderately park and cause issues for our local neighbours. We are working very closely to review the travel plan.”
Hampshire County Council leader Cllr Roy Perry said that he was aware of the concerns over parking, but would expect most families to be able to walk to school. He added that a new footpath entrance will be created in Tintern Close, which might encourage children to walk to school from Merton Rise.
Provision will also be made for pedal scooter parking and bikes, while the condition of footpaths will be considered for future works as developer contributions become available from Merton Rise.
The council is working with charity Living Streets to assess the walking-to-school routes in the area, and will produce a map with these marked.
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