SEND school plan for Romford

A Romford secondary school hopes to open a new school for children with special education needs and disabilities (SEND) on its grounds next year.

The new school – for 60 SEND students aged three to 16 – would be built next to St Edward’s Academy and run by the same trust, Unity Schools Partnership (USP).

While most of the site is currently car parking, the plans would also entail building on open green belt land, and would force Romford Football Club to relocate overflow parking for their new grounds, which were recently granted planning permission.

However, USP insists its design has “as minimal impact as possible on existing green spaces” and writes that building higher to minimise the area of the site “would not work educationally”.

The trust submitted its planning application to Havering Council last month and can expect a decision by 10th September.

The application reads: “These children represent some of the most vulnerable and disadvantaged children in our society.

“As such we believe they deserve a beautiful and well-appointed school, surrounded by opportunities for inclusivity and wealth.”

The building has been designed with long, straight corridors to “avoid distractions for pupils” and houses primary classrooms on the ground floor and secondary classrooms on the first.

The application notes: “Having the reception and primary classrooms on the ground floor, with the capability to separate the younger pupils from the older pupils, was essential.

“A layout with the secondary school at the first floor allows this safe separation, as well as marking an important milestone in the pupil’s journey through the school as they grow older.”

Adding a third floor to the building, suggested by the council’s planning officers to avoid building on open land, would mean “blurring the separation between the pupil age groups” and “would not work educationally”.

The application adds: “Although [St Edward’s] are very pleased to have the new SEN school on this location, they also value their view towards the playing fields and a three-storey building would negatively impact them.”

The applicant has met twice with the Greater London Authority about the plans, in February and April, and both times was warned that the amount of on-site parking seemed “excessive”.

They responded: “Due to the specialist needs of the pupils, the vast majority are expected to be transported to the school by LEA-provided minibuses or taxis.

“It has been necessary to cater for safe and efficient drop-off and pick-up movements within the site boundary, so that pupils can be escorted directly to and from the building.”

“A total of 18 parking bays will be provided on-site… and 25 staff members (out of 45 total) are forecast to drive to the site.

“This is considered to strike the appropriate balance between catering for the needs of specialist staff, who will be drawn from a relatively wide catchment area, and incentivising the use of sustainable travel modes amongst more locally-based staff.

“SEN staff are generally drawn from a wider catchment area than mainstream school staff given the specialist skills required. Some of these staff visit pupils at multiple schools in a typical day, which cannot feasibly be undertaken without a car – particularly if they carry equipment with them.”

If given planning permission, the new school building will be manufactured off-site and then installed in less than three weeks during a school holiday.

Residents can view and respond to the plans on the council’s website here: https://development.havering.gov.uk/OcellaWeb/planningDetails?reference=P1129.21&from=planningSearch

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Victoria Munro

Local Democracy Reporter