If anyone was not aware, Leeds City Council’s ambition is to make Leeds the “best city in the country” . If such a monumental ambition is to be anywhere near achieved, then working closely with communities making sure ‘localism‘ is real, is going to be a key capability. Similarly, the art of forecasting for the future is going to be more important than merely projecting past trends – a continuation of what we have is not good enough to make ‘the best city’. Nowhere are these capabilities more apparent than the current ‘consultation’ over the Guiseley school’s crisis.
As a reminder, the lethal mix of the large-scale housing development in Aireborough, particularly Guiseley, and a rising birthrate, has led to a crisis of infant and junior school places available – there just are not enough for the next few years, let alone future needs.
Looking at solutions, it was decided that more children at Tranmere School would cause traffic and other related issues for the residents of the ‘garden village’ conservation area: a situation that has led to tension between parents and local residents. A further suggestion to make both Guiseley Infants and St Oswalds Juniors into separate primary schools from 4-11 years, led to the formation of a local parents action group at the Infant School. There was strong resistance to what was seen as a reduction of facilities and fear that it would impact the children’s educational development; the fact that it would also increase traffic congestion for local residents and businesses was an important but lesser factor.
The outcome of this summer uproar, was a community workshop in October 2013, organized by Leeds Education Department, and a subsequent website for comments. The output of both has led to three proposals which are now in public consultation from 17 March – 18 April 2014 – details for how to respond here.
These proposals are to meet current need of children already living in the area, and housing under construction. It does not cover the planned future housing ie 2,300 (of which 1,548+ have no planning permission yet) that Leeds have in their core strategy.
a. Build a new junior school (7 to 11) at Fieldhead, to make a through school with the senior school. Entry from Sept 2015.
b. Turn St Oswalds into a primary school from 4-11 years from Sept 2015. Which will mean new buildings.
c. Keep Guiseley Infants as an infant school, which children moving on to either the new Fieldhead school, or St Oswalds.
These are important changes; every parent needs to know the detail of how it affects their children’s education personally, whilst local people want to know how this will affect the area as a whole and their wellbeing, particularly in terms of traffic congestion and green infrastructure. (The proposed new school will probably need road changes to Bradford Road, and is currently proposed for playing fields that will need to be compensated for.)
However, many feel that yet again Leeds’ consultation process is poor; it has not been tailored to the different needs and has not given them the information needed to make an informed decision. Neither do they feel that the consultation itself been promoted widely enough to parents and local people. It is difficult to get a large number of people informed, when people lead busy lives. But there is obviously more that Leeds could do by way of community engagement rather than community consultation – changing to an ethos of working with local people, rather than just asking for a response to proposals, which cannot be given on limited information.
In addition, there is the key question of how this proposal fits with the 2,300 extra houses that Leeds want to build in Aireborough: not forgetting the further large-scale house building Bradford has planned for Menston. Whilst this proposal meets the needs of current children and houses under construction on High Royds, Redrow, Crompton Parkinsons and Springhead Mills – what might happen in the future if Leeds plans come to fruition?
Also, looking below at the calculation Leeds use, is 25 primary school children per 100 houses, the right sort of level to plan with, and should the definition of family house be changed? What has past experience told us? We put these questions to Leeds Eduction, and they have agreed to look into it and supply us with some data; we are just not convinced the future looks like the past.
The number of places required is worked out by taking for Leeds as a whole
- Birth rates from hospitals
- GP data for children and where they live
- To this is added a calculation of 25 primary children (spread out from 4 – 11), and 10 senior school children, for every 100 family houses under construction or with planning permission where the date of construction is known.
This data is plotted for the area around each school (taken as the halfway point between schools), and updated regularly during the year.
In last year’s site allocation survey, the Aireborough Neighbourhood Forum firmly established that the area had been overdeveloped and that issues of facilities and capacity were building into very serious concerns. The Guiseley schools crisis is the first of those concerns to really hit the public conscious, but close behind are others to do with traffic, green space and healthcare.
The neighbourhood plan which will soon be underway, once we have got designation, is going to be vital to looking at the space we have got and what we can do or cannot do with it – in an holistic way. If you would like to help with this then contact us firstname.lastname@example.org and join the Forum and make a difference to our area – community engagement will be a fundamental part of drawing up the plan. And, we have now got some government funding to take things forward with professional planning help.
We all are the ones who live in the area, we are the ones with the knowledge of what is wanted, we are the ones who care. It is very clear, in Aireborough in general and Guiseley in particular, that we cannot go on as we are, and that the future has to be different to the past.