Sunday, 12 October 2008

School traffic, car parks, and disdain for local communities


We have covered school runs before. However there have been some disturbing new developments re: Cwmpadarn Primary School, Llanbadarn Fawr, Aberywtsyth. Yesterday a digger was seen digging up a grassy embankment by the school (photos below). Upon investigation a school Governor said that the school was digging it up to make more car park spaces, and that this had been a recommendation from Estyn for many years.






Seeing this ripping up of an embankment to be replaced with concrete is disheartening. Why?

1: This action puts residents and children walking to school at increased risk, by encouraging traffic up an unsuitable lane.

On school days many of the children’s parents speed up and down the lane to drop their children off. This poses a danger to local residents (in Llanbadarn and on the Brynrheidol estate) and children who would like to walk to school. Pedestrians have had close misses with cars on this school run on several occasions, since: there are no pavements; this narrow single lane road was not designed for lots of traffic; and the parents are invariably in a rush (and sometimes frustrated by the traffic going the other way). This potential danger also discourages some parents from letting their children walk to school, leading to a vicious circle that leads to further car use. Building more car parking spaces at the top of the lane is the worst thing, since it encourages more parents to drive up by making it easier for car drivers, rather than discouraging them - something which the school should be doing. Instead the school is doing nothing to reduce the volume of traffic that its business generates on an unsuitable road, preferring to wash its hands of the issue. The school’s headmaster even tacitly admits that the school traffic discourages children from walking and is dangerous - in a letter he wrote that “parents [are] unwilling to drop off the children [at the bottom of the road] due to the potential hazards of traffic on Penygraig”. So why would the school then act in a way that will increase traffic, and why is Estyn supporting this?

2: No consultation with the local community.

According to a school Governor, Estyn had been recommending more parking spaces for four years, and now the school has acted on it - yet at no time was there any consultation with the local community. And because no planning permission was sought and no notice was put up, residents did not know of this planned car park until yesterday, when the bank was already being ripped up. It is even more shocking when one considers that the school headmaster had been informed of this concern in writing, in a letter of 15th August that specifically stated there were concerns about extra car parks being built - and yet in his reply he didn’t mention these plans at all, even though it was obvious that they were relevant. This was disingenuous, and shows disdain for the local community.

What Estyn and the school refuse to recognise is that it is not just parents and children affected by the school. The rushing drivers, trying to drop off children in a hurry and becoming stressed by the constant traffic both ways, are a danger to residents too. The school cannot devolve all responsibility to the parents - it has to take some responsibility for the danger to residents created by the business of the school. There is an onus on all organisations to have some accountability for the impact of their business on the local community. And yet the school Governor spoken to on Saturday was very dismissive of the school needing to consider the impact on residents, and said it is “not their problem and not their responsibility”.

Safety is the main issue, but it is worth mentioning that digging up the green bank for a car park does also affect the view of the road, in a way that is detrimental to what is essentially a rural lane. (And one could add that digging up areas for more concrete is setting a shameful example to children, that cars are more important than green banks.)

For all these reasons the school and Estyn should have consulted with the local community before taking this action. It is particularly insensitive to do this at present, when a local community group are campaigning to prevent devlopments in our local woodland just past the school, due to the traffic and visual issues. (See other posts for details of that campaign).

So, what should be done:

1: Positive action to decrease school traffic

Firstly, it is felt that the school must do something about the volume of school traffic coming up and down the lane. If it requires radical action then that must be done, rather than denying responsibility. Suggestions made to the school headmaster have included:

  • Parents dropping their children off at the bottom of the lane (or by the path on Primrose Hill that crosses the stream onto Penygraig, by Rock Cottage). This would decrease the amount of cars on the lane, making the road safer for everyone; and would also be good for the children and help to make schemes that encourage children to walk to school successful. Once this became the standard for Cwmpadarn it would mean there were always small groups of children walking together (which could perhaps be supervised by a member of the school staff if required). At the very least the school could suggest to parents that they do this, perhaps trialling it for a few weeks. Making this a formal request to parents would perhaps lead to the situation where the parents who did ignore the request and speed up the lane to drop their children off would be the minority rather than the rule. Both Government policy (Safe Routes to School; concerns over child obesity) and the safety of residents (some elderly) and children would be furthered if children walked more.
  • Obviously it can’t be a rule of the school that parents should not drive up the road. However what the school can do is to repeat the message to parents (and children) each time there is an opportunity. E.g. every newsletter or communication to parents could have a standard paragraph encouraging parents not to drive up and down the lane, suggesting instead that they could drop the children off at the bottom, or in the layby on Primrose Hill to cross the stream, or walk the children, or cycle, or liftshare (to reduce traffic). The school could emphasise the benefits (health of the children, more pleasant environment and so on); and the negatives of driving (danger to walking children and residents, congestion). No-one can change the behaviour of others overnight, but if the school always included that message, it may start to fertilise over time, and at least lead to an improvement eventually. It may even tip the critical mass the other way one day, so that those driving would be frowned upon by other parents. With enough information and encouragement, a sensible message repeated often enough can lead to a change in attitudes over time.
  • The school could refuse to let cars into the playground at all by keeping the gates closed. It would then be impossible for the current volume of cars to go up and down the lane - there would be a gridlock. Parents would soon give up and drop their children off at the bottom.
  • It could be good if staff were to set an example. Perhaps if all school staff were encouraged not to drive in, then it would make getting the message across to parents a bit easier.
  • Transition Town Aberystwyth have a transport sub-group interested in these issues, and it was suggested that the school could contact them for support (and contact details were given).
  • On September 22nd was European ‘no car day’. It was suggested to the school that it could be an opportunity to start working on some of those suggestions. There has been no response from the school as to whether any attention was paid to this international scheme.
The headmaster in the past has menioned requests for speed bumps and signs. However these things could have a detrimental effect on the nature or ‘feel’ of the lane, and would be awkward for cyclists. The bumps may or may not have some impact on car speed, but the main problem is the amount of traffic; and the consequent cars dashing in and out of space to let other cars pass. Only reducing the volume of traffic would make a real difference.

2: Ideally repair and restore the embankment.

More car parking spaces will only encourage more traffic; and car parks are an eyesore on rural lanes. Will the school or Estyn admit it has made a mistake and restore the embankment?

Conclusion

The school was aware of these issues and has not taken steps to fix them. Therefore if ever there is an accident caused by school business, it may be the school which is liable for not having acted on this known risk.

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