This blog post is all about the proposed expansion of Forest Gate Community School, and the idea of closing Kuhn Way. The reason I’ve been reasonably quiet on this so far is because I’m a member of the planning committee that will make a decision about the planning applications that have been submitted, and as such I am generally required to keep an open mind before the committee meets.
After some considerable thought, however, I have decided to oppose the closure of Kuhn Way and to speak up on behalf of the large number of residents who have contacted me with their concerns. This means I won’t be able to vote as part of the planning committee, but I intend to ask if I can speak with other objectors, and put across the views I have heard and the reasons why I oppose the closure.
In summary, though, I am very conscious of the vital role that the school plays in our community. Forest Gate Community School has had such dramatic improvements over the past few years that it is now one of the best schools in the country, and I aim to always be an advocate for the school, staff, children, and their astonishing achievements.
Planning policy requires us to give ‘great weight’ to the need for additional school places when we weigh up planning applications. I have been to visit Simon Elliot the headteacher and walked around the school and seen the proposed plans, and understand that the option to close Kuhn Way is in many ways a more attractive option for the school which leads to a better design and easier access to outside space.
However, I’m also very aware that the school can be expanded without losing Kuhn Way, so the arguments of additional school places in an outstanding school which would normally be exceptionally strong, for me do not apply here. There are two planning applications submitted, which we are expecting to come to the committee in July, one design which closes Kuhn Way, and one which does not.
I’m very aware of how well used this relatively small alley is, and the way it links up a whole area of Forest Gate with the station and the town centre, both physically but also psychologically. I’ve spoken to residents for whom an additional few minutes would make the difference between going to the shops or not going at all, and have also spoken to a business owner who is very concerned about the impact closure would have on his business.
Most of all though, and especially now that I have the cabinet role with responsibility for Environment and Highways, I am worried that closing Kuhn Way would not achieve what we want for Newham or Forest Gate. If we want to encourage people to walk and cycle, and to create a place that is easy to navigate, a place that is easy to access and to see your way through, a borough that encourages people to walk by making it easy and attractive, then closing up a right of way seems to me to go entirely against this.
I do think there are some issues to tackle in that area, some of which might be easier to find a solution to than others. I must admit I haven’t ever heard complaints of crime or ASB there, as reported during this process, though I am always willing to listen if that is what residents and children at the school have experienced. I know there is frequent fly tipping, and badly managed commercial waste, and pavement parking, and I think as a council we can do better, especially on the latter where ideally I’d like to investigate putting in some bollards or similar to stop cars driving onto our pavements.
But overall I think Kuhn Way is heavily used, highly valued, and an important link, and given this and the overwhelming views of residents, it feels only right and fair that I should absent myself from the committee decision on this occasion, and represent the local residents and encourage the committee to vote against the application which proposes closing Kuhn Way, and for the application which keeps it open.
I’m always happy to answer questions, on this or anything else – although I am so busy with my new cabinet role right now that I’m much further behind with things than I should be! Please feel free to comment on here, or to reach out to me on twitter or Facebook. If you want to make a substantive comment to me or need to be assured of a response, please use my email firstname.lastname@example.org