Local developments

Blossom House School - Proposed Relocation

Members , and in particular those living close to Motspur Park Station, may be interested in a new Planning Application, Reference number: on the Council Planning Explorer 13/P 3973. 

Blossom House School (BHS) is described as an Independent State Funded School currently operating from a site in The Drive, Wimbledon (off the Ridgeway). It is a specialist day school for children aged 3 to 19 who have “speech, language or communications difficulties”.  

The School takes pupils from no less than 18 Local Authorities mostly from the London Boroughs.. At present there are 180 pupils with a staff of 115 – a very high staff to pupil ratio - as one might expect given the nature of the remit. 

Relocation Proposal 

If there is planning approval the intention is to move to a one-time office block called Abbott Court in Station Road New Malden very close to Motspur Park Station. This was occupied by a firm called Epsilon who vacated the building early in 2013. 

Planning Policy Changes 

I should explain that what the Council is considering is not a normal planning application where you might expect perhaps some  demolition and a new building.  In May last year the Government made changes to what is known as the General Permitted Development Order under which FULL planning  approval would no longer be required to convert  office buildings (normally assumed to be redundant to need) into either residential or school use.

In such cases there is still a requirement for what is known as "Change of Use".

Under this arrangement the Council can only consider a limited range of issues namely:  transport and highway impact, noise, and whether the site has flooding or contamination risks.  In short what is contemplated is a Change of Use rather than a normal building project.  Where a proposal does not involve ‘ material ‘ changes to the exterior of the building, and no significant new external building work is envisaged,  the Council is only involved with the Prior Approval  aspect.

In this case, the applicant claims that the 3 blocks which make up Abbott Court would need only internal modifications and there would be only very limited changes to other parts of the buildings. The applicant claims that the Council has accepted this assertion.

Traffic Implications 

The fact that Abbott Court is only a short walk from Motspur Park Station is seen as a big attraction in terms of getting to and from the site, but I suspect there will be concern about additional traffic movements and parking.  The new site has underground parking for 80 cars and currently total parking provision for 132 cars.  However, need I say, a School needs a play area and the intention seems to be that much of the above- ground parking would become a playground with the end result that off-road parking provision would be 83 car spaces .  Fortunately the layout of the existing site would make it possible for dropping-off and pick-ups to be achieved inside the site. However the applicant points out that there is a growing demand for places at the School and they talk about a possible expansion , over the next 6- 7 years, when pupil numbers could reach 300 with a staff of 180. Given these projected figures one is bound to wonder what the traffic implications will be,  and the possible on-road parking impact will be close to the new School. Station Road itself has very limited parking potential. This is an issue the Council will need to consider very carefully. 

Whilst I have no knowledge of how many of these specialist type schools there are in London or the local area it does surprise me that pupils need to travel so far .  It seems some come from Westminster,  Camden and Ealing as well as parts of Surrey and Kent. On the face of it – if the plans go as intended – Motspur Park is likely to see a quantum growth in car and mini-bus movement over the next few years. I hope this can be managed and that as many of the staff and pupils as possible use the Station. 

Change of Use – Office to Residential

I mentioned the General permitted Development Order ( GDPO ) earlier. 

Under the Amendment to this Order on 30th May last year it also became possible to change offices into residential use, subject to a number of conditions. One of these is that the option is time-limited to 30th May 2016, Given the demand to provide more housing (normally flats in this instance) it is inevitable there have been a number of applications in recent  months.  As with the case of Abbott Court, there is an assumption that the office building in question is no longer required for business use. However the Council is expected to consider whether the change would have adverse impact on employment consequences in the local area. 

 It is almost a ‘given‘ that once the conversion is completed the building will never return to Office or employment use. Whether this initiative makes sense in the longer term seems to me open to question. Building more and more houses and flats without there being adequate employment prospects or schools , clinics and community facilities and so on reasonably close to hand, does not strike me as sustainable development .  I will try to expand on that theme in another article. 

David Freeman (Co-opted Committee Member)



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