As many people are aware, there are plans to relocate Tipton St John Primary School from its present location to a new site close to The Kings School in Ottery St Mary.
Tipton St John School has experienced many threatened and actual flood events over the years. Teachers are on tenterhooks during heavy rain in case they need to evacuate the children to the upper site, across the road.
Worryingly, the Environment Agency (EA) has determined that there is a risk to life associated with the school remaining in its present location, which is in Flood Zone 3 – the highest risk.
Unfortunately, EA officers say that any mitigation can only ever be a sticking plaster and not a solution.
After years of working to try and resolve this problem, Devon County Council is now proposing to build a new school on its own land, to the west of Cadhay Lane in Ottery St Mary.
But Tipton School is important in the community. If the school is lost, I fear that the heart of Tipton will also be lost.
So how did such a situation arise?
Considerable work was done by the school, the diocese and others, and a suitable site in Tipton was found on the edge of the village in 2016.
The landowner had agreed in principle to selling this land for the school to be built.
I attended these planning meetings and we were all hopeful that the government would release funds under its Priority Schools Building Programme for a new primary school to be built within the village.
Regrettably, Lord Nash, the relevant government minster at the time, eventually refused the application on the grounds that flooding – even flooding that could mean a risk to life – did not fall within the required criteria.
Instead, ministers offered only £750,000 towards the build of a new school – a drop in the ocean.
Devon County Council (DCC), like so many local authorities, has suffered massive government budget cuts over the last decade – these reductions have adversely affected its school building programme.
So the council was attracted to the idea of developing a site it owns west of Cadhay Lane, because it would not need to buy the land.
Still, DCC says that there is a considerable funding shortfall for the new school, which can only be met by building 150 houses nearby – a planning application is expected early in 2020.
If the proposal for a new school and the houses were to be approved, it would breach a range of planning policies including:
- putting a development outside Ottery`s Built Up Area Boundary;
- building houses on land designated in the Ottery Neighbourhood Plan for community and education;
- compromising land designated for expansion of the Kings School;
- further extending Ottery’s designated housing requirement, which has already been substantially exceeded;
- creating a large increase in traffic.
I know just how hard DCC officers, the diocese and the head teacher have worked in trying to secure a new school for Tipton St John.
The new government in place after 12 December should fully support these efforts by fully funding a new school in Tipton St John.
Pic: Sidmouth Herald. Clearing up after floods with the community and fire fighters, in 2016