Thursday, 15 November 2012
St Martin's School Playing Field-- Final Chapter
Other parish schools had been redeveloped on their existing sites, this is evident by the fact that in page 19 of the feasibility Study it states “The object of incorporating schemes 1B and 1C is to illustrate how the existing school could be remodelled to provide accommodation of a similar size and standard as the recently newly built primary schools such as St Clements’s and St Peter's schools. Not withstanding the comment neither scheme was advanced, the school was promptly placed on the Sites of Local Interest” and plans were then advanced to build on the field because as it was revealed at the Planning Meeting last Friday, it happened to be in public ownership.
For the past 6 months I have written letters to the local newspaper and kept the media and public informed via the publication of further Blogs. I had nominated the field in relation to the Diamond Jubilee Field’s Trust and held a public meeting. I am grateful for the support I received and thank those who attended the public meeting and submitted comments in line with the Planning Policy; however it is now evident that the Planning Minister had decided way back in March to approve the application and in the words submitted by one objector “the public consultation exercise was ‘a charade’ and the process seemed to be a ‘fait accompli’;
I am not aware of any disagreement regarding the need to upgrade or replace the existing school, that had been taken as a given way back. The only issue was whether the replacement should be on the existing site or on the school field. That should have been the only issue the Minister had to consider last Friday but he was simply not interested in that valid argument and clearly his mind was made up before last Friday and the meeting was indeed a farce.
Having for the first time, sat through the application process I can honestly say that it was a bizarre experience. Whilst there was much to be said about the flexibility given to the time allowed to speak, there are genuine concerns over the way the application process was conducted and the acceptance of over 200 submissions of support lodged some 9 weeks after the closing date. Normally 3 weeks is given for submissions, however because of the public meeting, additional time was given which in the end totalled 8 weeks. Most of the late submissions, which were in the form of a pro-forma given to parents by the school, were undated and the contact details removed by the Planning Department so there was no way any one could check the author’s validity. Notwithstanding the late submission their existence was used as support by the Planning Officer.
In his report the Planning Officer listed a number the points made by those in support or opposition, however the parish football club’s representative strongly refuted the claim that his club was happy with the current arrangement. He also stated that as his club is now homeless it is in grave danger of folding. Although temporary consent had now been given to train on the existing playing field that arrangement would end once construction began. He asked that if the application was approved, it should include a condition whereby the Education Department should re-house the club in the parish in line with UK policies.
The case for opposing the application was well made by the 4 objectors which included me. Simply, why build on the field when a school could be built on the existing site? Those in support were repetitive with their claim that the school should be replaced, which has never been disputed, however the Minister never asked any of them why the school should be built on the field rather than on the existing site and what affect if any, it would have on the children should they be temporarily re-housed in port-a-cabins during the new school’s construction.
The States Architect was asked to comment on the plans for the new school, but the Minister never asked him whether a fit for purpose school could be built on the site if the existing buildings were demolished? His failure to ask such an obvious question lends support to the belief that he had made his mind up before last Friday and he was merely going through the motions. Interestingly as the Minister failed to ask the question, I asked it and astonishingly the Officer said it was not possible and not even if the new build extended on to the hard standing area on the playing field.
The school is on a 3 vergee site and the hard standing area on the field provides a near additional half vergee, yet the States are employing architects who cannot draw up plans to build a school which has a near £8m budget on such a generous envelope.
Once the last person in support had spoken, the Minister in almost indecent haste delivered his verdict which he had obviously reached some months ago. Not withstanding the fact that he is also the Minister for the Environment and has stated that he wants to be champion of the environment he gave approval to the application which sees the demise of the Playing field along with its cricket pitch and adult football pitch, the loss of a much valued open space and a public amenity. At no time did he attempt to justify the decision or why the rebuild could not be on the existing site.
The Minister did not as requested, include a condition on the Education Department to find an alternative playing field in St Martin, but he placed a condition that the club could continue using the junior playing field to train on. The Minister obviously missed the point that if the Club does not have a pitch to play on and folds, it will certainly not need an area to train on.
As one can see by reading any of the 8 Blogs below, much effort has been made to argue for the retention of the playing field, yet there has been little support to build on it. I intentionally delayed publishing this Blog because I was conscious that the Minister was giving consideration to the application to demolish the existing holiday camp site on the Plemont headland, build 28 houses on the existing site and return a larger part to nature.
The Chief Minister, Senator Gorst is supporting the view that the whole area should be purchased by the public and returned to nature. If one reads my Blogs one will see that Chief Minister Gorst was responsible for the Diamond Jubilee Field’s Trust which was intended to save 2012 playing fields throughout the UK. He was aware that in early May I had nominated the St Martin’s Playing Field before planning consent was sought, but did nothing to process the nomination. Since September he has transferred responsibility for the Field Trust to the Connetables who to the best of my knowledge have not taken steps to involve their parishioners or advance the scheme which ends next month.
Given the Chief Minister’s support for the environment and spending tax payer’s money in support of returning Plemont which is privately owned and already built on to headland, one would have thought he would have been supportive of retaining a publically owned playing field. However the good Chief Minister along with his Environment Minister and Sports Minister kept their heads way below the parapet and were found wanting at the Playing field’s hour of need.
The same could be said of the Jersey Sport’s Council who could not even be bothered to submit a report. It should have been fighting to protect playing fields, but was also found wanting, so what is the point of that body if it is not willing to fight its corner for clubs and associations?
The Planning Minister has now made his decision known and he is giving consent to build on the Plemont site. Given that it is a brown field site the decision should not come as a surprise but will disappoint some people. Interestingly unlike the Playing field application, the Minister commissioned a consultant to review the application, this gave both sides the opportunity to submit their views and allow for the feed back to be independently scrutinised.
Given the concerns raised about the devious change of use and lack of public consultation before and after the Island Plan debate, one wonders why the Minister did not follow suit with the Playing field application. I submit that had such a review been conducted the recommendation would have been to save the field.
Unfortunately approval has now been given with little chance of any appeal. There are calls to find sites to relocate the Police Headquarters and the Hospital, may I suggest that the FB Playing Fields or any of St Martin’s green fields be considered. The green light has been given and a precedent set by the current Planning Minister who appears to have little enthusiasm for protecting playing or green fields.
St Martin's School
You don't what you have lost till its gone
Queen Elizabeth II Fields Challenge
Save our Field----Is anyone listening???
Public Meeting (Report)
Wanted--Your Help to Save Your Field
St Martin's Playing Field--- Thank you
Moving the goal posts-- Literally