How suitable is Segas House for a new central Croydon primary school?

By - Thursday 31st July, 2014

Sean Creighton listens with concern to the debate about a new primary school for Park Lane

Segas House, Park Lane, central Croydon – a suitable site for a primary school?
Photo by Liz Sheppard-Jones, used with permission.

Discussion of the suitability of Segas House on Park Lane in central Croydon – directly opposite the Fairfield Halls – as a location for a primary school has highlighted the problem of the support all schools give to sports activities for their pupils.

Both issues were discussed at Croydon Council’s Children and Young Persons’ Scrutiny Committee on Tuesday 22nd July, where Labour councillors Andrew Pelling, Sean Fitzsimons and Stephen Mann expressed concern about Segas House. Councillor Mann stressed safety concerns given its proximity to a busy main road, child protection and the quality of play and sport provision given the local of the proposed playground – on the roof.

The officers admitted that they found the site very challenging, but could not find an alternative. The proposed new school is needed to meet the shortfall of places in the Central Croydon primary school planning district that will result from planned new homes in the Town Centre. It will be needed for many years; it is not just a temporary requirement. We are told that the council will do everything it can to ensure safety. Officers took the point about sport facilities and stated they would help ensure the school develops partnerships for facilities-sharing with others.

In short, while the officers gave a robust defence of their position, I got the feeling that there will be behind-the-scenes discussions between them and Andrew Pelling.

I asked whether members of the sub-committee really consider this location suitable

Having emailed the members in advance of the meeting to express concern about Segas House and the suitability of it and other locations, I was invited to address the sub-committee and ask questions.

Pointing out that I did understand the officers’ arguments for using Segas House for a school, I then asked the sub-committee members whether they thought it a suitable location. I also asked them whether they thought council criteria for supporting site acquisition for academies and free schools were sufficient, and whether any other sites had been identified which could be suitable for future schools, citing a former sports ground on the Merton side of the Norbury border.

I suggest that the following criteria be used to assess the suitability of new locations for any school:

  • a minimum suitable distance (to be agreed) between the building and any main roads in order to minimise noise and pollution entering the building
  • sufficient space between their boundary and any main road to ensure pupil safety at the start and finish times of the school day
  • sufficient space to enable adequate outdoor play and recreational space at ground level
  • a green environmental element, or the capacity to include one
Transport plans are a legal requirement – sports plans are only advisory

Councillors Mann and Fitzsimons were particularly concerned about the fact that new school sites did not provide sufficient play and sports facilities. Councillor Mann suggested the introduction of school sports plans similar to the transport plans schools are required to prepare – but while transport plans are a legal requirement, sports plans could only be advisory. Staff cuts means reduced resources are available either to monitor transport plans or work on the idea of sports plans.

It was accepted, however, that sports provision is an issue that needs to be raised with the new school providers. Towards the end of the meeting, when Councillor Fitzsimons was explaining the idea of the local scrutiny reviews, it was clear that school sports plans were an issue that Councillor Mann could explore using that mechanism. I have subsequently have emailed Councillor Mann with some ideas on how he might proceed. Councillor Fitzsimons also expressed concern about declining involvement in sport among 16-24 year olds.

Nero Ughwujabo expressed firm support for a new scrutiny process

Nero Ughwujabo of the Croydon Black and Minority Ethnic Forum had been invited to the meeting to comment on the proposed work plan. While he broadly supported it, he stressed the need to ensure that our increasingly fragmented school provision (maintained, academy and free) enhanced equality and did not contribute to further inequalities.

He stressed the potential role of community and voluntary sector in helping to mitigate against inequalities and gave firm support for the new scrutiny process and particularly the local review mechanism. He also added his voice to the need for a review of play and sports provision in schools, including the contribution of the voluntary sector, the use of green spaces and so on.

I remain concerned that the decisions being made about this site and others are problematic.

Sean Creighton

Sean Creighton

A former employee of and freelance project worker with community and voluntary organisations, Sean is active with Croydon Assembly and with the Planning and Transport Committee of the Love Norbury group of residents associations. He is Chair of the Norbury Community Land Trust. He is a historian of Croydon and South-West London, British black society, social action and the labour movement. He coordinates the Samuel Coleridge-Taylor and Croydon Radical History networks. He runs blog sites covering Croydon, Norbury and history events, issues and news. He runs a small scale publishing imprint called History & Social Action Publications. He gives talks on a range of history topics and leads history walks.

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  • Y Bachgen

    Nice article and thumbs up to you for all your work on this issue.
    One of the key questions is why this was proposed in the first place given the paucity of space and the absolutely clear difficulties regarding traffic and space.
    I also wonder why the Conservative administration pushed for it given the stated policy preference of one of its leadership team:

    On child obesity I made the point that activity through sport is vital and we need to see far more competitive sport in all our schools.— Steve O'Connell (@SteveO_Connell) June 18, 2014

    Perhaps you might ask Mr O’Connell how he squared that particular circle in this instance?
    Again, nice job.

    • Sean Creighton

      Thanks Y Bachgen. Steve – space in these articles does not allow for full discussion of various people’s contributions to discussion. What is needed is a range of physical activities; to narrow dominance of a limited range of competitive sports in schools is what puts a lot of pupils off. I recall that my fellow six-formers at school enjoyed themselves much more when we negotiated a wider range of activities. At yesterday’s meeting between Tony Newman, Cllr Watson and CEO Nathan Elvery it was announced from the floor that a large sum of money is coming into the Borough for ‘sport’ in a few months. So there is going to room for debate about how it should be spent. For sports provision outside schools facilities can clearly be a problem as the organiser of a basketball club explained – being responded with with offers of premises from others attending; even Elvery said Braithwaite Hall could be used for practice!.

  • Charlotte Davies

    Croydon has a very high level of population density in the Central and Northern wards; along with a high birth rate and a large number of young families. There is a huge need for primary schools in Croydon in the areas where there is little green space. The Segas building is not the only primary school which does not look good in terms of lack of play space and poor air quality – the other obvious site that is concerning is the proposal to take the Victoria House site back to a full primary school, that is right by the flyover. In Central Croydon one does wonder why no-one has looked at trying to develop something out of the College Green area, perhaps with links to Fairfield Halls and Croydon College.
    All children and young people need to have access to play space in order to develop properly physically and mentally. Primary aged children need to play actively in order to develop their control over their muscle systems, without which they cannot go on to develop other skills fully.
    I think that we ought to be really worried about the quality of life that our children in Croydon are experiencing with cramped homes and cramped schools (many now have portakabins on the fields and playgrounds). We already have the lowest educational outcomes for South London Boroughs; we need a better vision to give our children every opportunity in life.