Tipton St John School relocation blocked

Flood-hit school won’t move

Head worried children may die

Plans to relocate a Devon primary school as part of a new housing development on the edge of Ottery St Mary have been turned down by councillors, even though they’d been recommended to approve it.

That’s concerned the headteacher of Tipton St John Primary, a school that’s under constant threat of flooding. He’s told a planning meeting: “I do not want a child to be the first to die due to flooding at Tipton school. The school is wonderful and served the community for over 150 years but the relocation is the only viable proposal, and without the move I fear for the long term future of the school.”

A new development of 210 space primary school and up to 150 new homes on land opposite Barrack Farm in Exeter Road, Ottery St Mary would have seen Tipton St John Primary School relocated. Governors want to relocate the school to a new site next to Ottery’s secondary school, King’s. 

The preferred option had been to relocate the school in the town, but after a £3.5 million bid to the government was rejected, and due to the flood risk, a rebuild on the current site was not viable, a move to Ottery St Mary was considered the only realistic choice.

But despite councillors agreeing the school needed to be relocated, they voted against the plans due to the housing element, and said that if the school wasn’t part of the scheme, the application ‘wouldn’t even have been validated’ given it breaches so many planning policies.

Applicants Devon County Council had argued that esidential development is required in order to fund the building of the school.

Jane Halse, a governor, said there was no realistic option to build or remain on the site. She said: “The site and the buildings are too small and not fit for purpose. Remaining on the site remains a risk to life and the scepticism of the flood risk could encourage decisions that endanger the children. More children at the school live outside of the village and moving two miles to safety will meet the needs of the children as a whole.”

But opposing the scheme, resident Lewis Carr said that there were “pages and pages of objections” to the housing element, and that the lack of investment in the existing school had ‘sucked the life out of the community and this will rip out the heart’.

Cllr Claire Wright, who represents the Otter Valley ward on Devon County Council, said she had never felt so sad about the position she had to take, but called for the committee to refuse the scheme. She said: “On paper, this breaches all the planning policies it shouldn’t. I hear the anger in the voice of the objectors and the sadness in the headteacher, but I cannot support as contrary to the local plan, neighbourhood plan, and not the right solution for Ottery St Mary.”

Cllr Vicky Johns, who represents Ottery St Mary, added: “I object as it stomps all over the local plan and goes against everything in the Neighbourhood Plan and the Local Plan. We have adequate housing in Ottery and don’t have infrastructure for another 150 houses, regardless of what they are for. This is a planning application and we have to take out why the school has to be relocated.”

Cllr Geoff Pratt, who is on the committee, called for it to be refused. He said: “The harm in the application is the provision of houses on agricultural land outside the built up boundary, the visibility of the site, and the lower than policy requirement affordable housing. The only benefit is the replacement of the primary school. Cadhay lane is not suitable for 150 homes and a school. This is a breach of local plan and neighbourhood plan and it will end up with an urban sprawl.”

Supporting him, Cllr Philip Skinner added: “If there was no school there, this wouldn’t have even got validated. I am not prepared to drive coach and horse through the planning policy when weighing up the good, bad and the ugly.

“What is important to Tipton St John is that if the school could be relocated there, but in the right location. The land has not been put forward as it is suitable but because it is owned by Devon County Council and they need it to fund it. We just cannot put the policies to one side to fit this in and I am so apologetic to the school but I cannot support this.”

After nearly three hours of debate, councillors voted by 11 votes to two, with two abstentions, to refuse the application on the grounds of the countryside location of the housing scheme which is in an area not allocated for residential development and outside the built up area boundary of the town, the harmful visual impact, and that is didn’t provide the 50 per cent affordable housing required in policy.

Radio Exe: Local News