Controversial Bowlee school consultation evening

Date published: 06 March 2018

Local residents, parents, businesses and campaign groups turned out in force for an information evening about a controversial new high school being built on green belt land at Bowlee on Monday (5 March).

Rochdale Online revealed in February that Rochdale Borough Council signed off plans to release land on Bowlee Community Park for the school, Edgar Wood Academy, to be built by the Altus Education Partnership, which runs Rochdale Sixth Form College.

West Middleton councillors Phil Burke, Neil Emmott (Cabinet Member for Housing & Environment), Susan Smith and Healey councillor Keiran Heakin, who is Cabinet Member for Children’s Services were present at the consultation at the David Lloyd Gym on Heywood Old Road, Middleton.

Joining them were council officers Alex Whittaker, Donna Bowler and schools manager Dr Fay Davies, who were answering queries about school admissions plus the proposed location for the school and traffic-related concerns.

Eric Larmett, chairman of the Friends of Bowlee group, put forward an alternate site of a comparable size that is still owned by the local authority.

He explained: “If the school is put on this site it would keep the park for community use. It’s around the same size as the land identified, and makes use of the former school site and fields which are owned by the council. We are not against the school, just where it’s going to go.”

The land put forward by Mr Larmett is a plot of bordering Whittle Brook down to Martindale Crescent and up past the former school, running adjacent to the land currently proposed.

He added: “The council could buy the land for access off Langley Lane and a footpath from Martindale Crescent.”

Mr Larmett also pointed out that page 135 of the 2006 Rochdale Unitary Development Plan states, in relation to recreational management areas including Bowlee Community Park: “New built development will not generally be permitted unless it is in connection with an existing building or use, or is ancillary to an outdoor use, and is of an appropriate scale, design and layout.”

Councillor Emmott said: “I would support the alternative piece of land that Eric has proposed.”

Ms Bowler, system director of place, commented: “The existing artwork is indicative of the size of the site, and there will be further consultation. Altus needs this consultation for the bid, which will be submitted when the window has opened, and the council will help support this.”

Councillor Smith added: “A lot of people are for the school; they’re just worried about where it’s going. The area shown on the map at the moment isn’t static.”

A ground survey is being completed of the site, to determine a suitable location for the school. The Council says the current artist’s impression is not a finalised plan showing the final location of the school. Should the bid be successful once submitted, a report from the survey will then be compiled and collated with further public consultation before a final report is submitted. If the final report deems part of the Bowlee site suitable, the plans will then be put before the Planning and Licensing Committee.

A site for the school has to be decided upon prior to a free school bid by Altus to the Department of Education. Applications for new free school sites must be submitted during set periods of time throughout the year. The next window is expected to open in April.

Other concerns raised by residents included the traffic flow on Heywood Old Road and Langley Lane, the proposed location of a roundabout, plus potential houses as part of the ‘Bowlee Masterplan’. Some residents pointed out they knew nothing of the school proposition until they saw surveyors on the site in early January.

Representatives from Bowlee Motorcycle Training, who also found out about the school after spotting surveyors on site, expressed their concern as the current location proposed covers their business, which has been established at the Pavilion for eight years. If the site changes, there is also the possibility that it may cover their full-size training track.

They said: “We are fully on board with the plans and the need for a school, but we’re concerned about the future of our business as no-one seems to have considered us.”

Governor at Bowlee Park Community School John Finlay said: “From a governor point of view, it’d be great to have the facilities these guys will bring. We have problems with funding [at Bowlee Park Community School] and our fields are underused already. Hopefully we could have a link with this school like we do with St Anne’s. Having this on our doorstep and sharing facilities could be great for the community and could also fulfil their needs.

“I agree that some part could be moved to the playing fields.

"People are very passionate about the community projects we have at Bowlee, and the council has some here too.

"It would be hard to get people out to do things and implement a new community if this was taken away; it would be hard to feel involved.

“However, even when it’s built, it still won’t be big enough for the children here: we’d still need more spaces, so why not build a bigger one in the first place? Why not provide the future space for all? It doesn’t seem like forward thinking.”

Speaking about the drop-in, Councillor Burke said: “It has been a very good turnout. As ward councillor, I’ll be listening very carefully to concerns and ideas raised, which will be considered if and when plans are in front of the planning committee.”

Councillor Heakin said: “I’m pleased that people seem to be pleased with the school. A lot of feedback has been taken on board tonight. My concern is that it’s March 2018, which is only two years and six months away from when they want to open the doors. We have to wait for the government to open the window for the bid to be submitted, but I am confident we’ll get there.”

Staff members from Rochdale Sixth Form were also on hand to inform prospective students and parents about the curriculum and answer any education questions along with Dame Pam Coward DBE, a trustee of the Altus Education Partnership.

Joy Bell, acting principle of Rochdale Sixth Form, concluded: “We’ve spoken to a lot of prospective parents, who seem pleased there will be a high school within walking distance from where they live. A few local headteachers have dropped in as well and we’ve had a lot of good feedback.”

The number of pupils in the current year four and below has grown and existing schools in the Middleton and Heywood areas are unable to accommodate these additional pupils.

For the council to meet its statutory duty to provide sufficient school places, a new secondary school needs to open in the borough in September 2020. Edgar Wood Academy would hold 180 pupils per year with a capacity for 900 pupils between 11 and 16 years of age.

A 'secret' vote on Bowlee was taken after public and press had been excluded at a cabinet meeting at Rochdale Town Hall in December 2017. 

The agenda for December’s cabinet meeting also refers to the ‘Bowlee Masterplan’ with proposals for community use and additional residential development.

Matters relating this will be discussed at the upcoming cabinet meeting at 6.15pm on Tuesday (13 March) at Number One Riverside, Rochdale.

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