School goes here
School goes in the middle of here?
[STOP PRESS: The change of use application has now been withdrawn. See update at the end. ]

There’s nothing quite like planning committees and schools to get people all hot under the collar in Twickenham. That whole ‘neck / collar interface’ is getting decidedly warm near Twickenham Green as one of the recently approved free schools seeks to turn an office block into its new primary school. What office block is that, we hear you cry. Well it’s Heathgate House which sits between Heath Road and Colne Road by Twickenham Green. It’s a building that has had intermittent use over recent years and now GEMS Learning Trust are proposing to convert it into their new Twickenham Primary Academy.

An application for change of use from business to educational is currently residing on the El Brute website. There’s a lot of pressure on school places across the borough and several local primaries have already taken on ‘bulge classes’ to accommodate demand. Could the established schools with more space take on more pupils? Perhaps, but the free schools system allows for all sorts of new initiatives although finding suitable locations is proving to be a challenge for many of them.

The Heathgate House site is fairly small and has limited outside play space. Little Johnny will be lapping that playground to burn off his excess energy. The GEMS plan would see two forms in each year group and a nursery. This equates to 450 children on the site by the time the school reaches full capacity in September 2022. It would put the space under a lot of pressure. A quick butchers on Google Earth will show you that the Heathgate House footprint looks to be about one third of the size of Archdeacon Cambridge’s school just across the Green. Perhaps we might describe the school as ‘compact’.

And what about traffic? The surrounding roads are narrow, a two-way flow isn’t always possible, parking can be tough and the junction of Colne Road and Heath Road by Chapman’s store is an awkward one. The application letter states that, “The proposed school is expected to generate less demand for parking throughout the school peak periods than the extant use, and as such would represent a reduction in overall demand”. Hmmm. Maybe. Meanwhile, the application also explains how the current car park on the plot would be converted into the school playground. No doubt everyone will be a good citizen and walk to school or take public transport meaning traffic and parking is unlikely to be a problem. Possibly. Or possibly not. Here at twickerati, we don’t know much about schools although we did go to one once. To be honest, it was a bit of a boring day. Perhaps if we’d paid more attention at school we’d be able to see the virtues of this plot as a location for a school for 450 pupils. But, as they say, if not here then where? And therein lies a large part of the problem in finding enough space to meet growing demand for school places, new and innovative ideas are required. Needless to say you can express your view on the proposal on El Brute’s planning page.

And if that’s not enough for you, on the other side of town, the proposed Lidl supermarket on Richmond Road in East Twickenham is creating angst among those who believe another of the newly approved schools may have missed out on a suitable location. Word is that the Richmond Bridge Primary School was interested in that one. It’s another fairly ‘compact’ site in an area of limited parking and plenty of traffic. It doesn’t sound ideal but, as we said just a few lines ago, and at the risk of extreme repetition, we need more school places and so if not there then where?

Go. Ponder that. Then share.

UPDATE: 12 December 2014
The change of use application has now been withdrawn. As Chris Squire writes in his comment below:
“An email confirming that the HH application has been withdrawn is here.

Instead they plan to meet the planners in January and to prepare a ‘full application’. The planners’ ‘Reason for taking no further action on application’ is here.”

To save you clicking on that link, the reasons given on that “No Further Action” statement are pretty much…
– Pre-application advice was sought from Officers but not followed in terms of either technical or procedural issues
– Some of the planned alterations would need to be dealt with on a full planning application rather than a change of use application
– Concerns around parking and noise
– Objections from local residents
– Deficit of soil contamination information

Of course this withdrawal doesn’t mean that the issue is closed by any means. Will a full planning application be submitted as suggested? Well, we’ll find out in 2015 what the next twist in this saga will be.

* Richmond Council Planning Page (case number: 14/4611/P3KPA)
* GEMS Learning Trust – Twickenham
* Lidl’s East Twickenham proposal
* Richmond Bridge Primary