By Steven Downes
Croydon Council is looking to build a primary school where pupils will be hermetically sealed in from the poisonous air pollution created by heavy traffic on a busy trunk road alongside.
The council's planning committee reviewed a pre-application last week for the Purley Way primary, to cost at least £22m, which academy operators want to build on a derelict site alongside the four-lane A23 London to Brighton road.
The site had previously been used by a primary school which was moved five years ago to a more suitable, less polluted location.
The toxic mix of pollution from vehicle exhausts, including carbon monoxide, nitrogen dioxide and particulate matter, is proven to be particularly damaging to the developing lungs of young children, and is thought to be the cause of rising levels of child asthma in built-up areas. Despite efforts to reduce the levels of air pollution caused by traffic, parts of London have regularly failed to meet air quality standards set by the EU.
Croydon has an air pollution monitoring station positioned close to the site of the proposed primary school, where officials say it registers pollutants at the “upper end” of legal limits for adults during rush hour traffic.
Croydon Council’s own education team described the site proposed as “not the most perfect location” for a school. The three-form-of-entry primary, which will have 540 pupils plus staff when fully open, could add 1,000 car journeys per weekday to the traffic on the Purley Way.
Such is the official concern about poor air quality that the plans submitted last week include proposals to seal off parts of the building from the outside world and have the school “internally ventilated”.
In the submission for the school, it was suggested that the worst of the air pollution locally could be mitigated by the front part of the building, including the dining facilities and school hall, being sealed off from the external atmosphere with special ventilation systems. The children’s outside activity and play areas would be placed further back from the Purley Way.
Other suggestions to reduce additional traffic created by the daily school run included for parents to drop off their children in the car park of a nearby supermarket, and for the pupils to undertake “walking buses” to the school, crossing the A23 at one of south London’s most notorious traffic snagging points, Fiveways junction. A council official told the meeting that such a scheme might offer “all sorts of marketing opportunities” to the supermarket.
At last week’s planning meeting at Croydon Town Hall, councillors from the opposition Conservative group described the location as “not appropriate” for a primary school. Labour councillors from the ward where the school is to be built questioned the long-term effects on pupils’ health of attending a school built on such a busy road.
A poll on the Inside Croydon website has had 98% of respondents say the site is not appropriate for a primary school.
The primary has not yet been granted planning permission, although the Harris Federation academy operators have stated that they intend to open in September 2016 using temporary accommodation on the site while the school is being built.
For more on this and other Croydon news, visit insidecroydon.com.