Fencing approved for Peterborough sports pitches over school safeguarding concerns despite objections
The erection of a fence to surround playing fields adjacent to Ken Stimpson Community School in Werrington has been granted planning approval, despite objections from many local residents.
The controversial application was approved on grounds that it will provide children with a degree of safeguarding, but residents say it is being constructed in the wrong place and will deny them access to land that does not even belong to the school.
Speaking to members of Peterborough City Council’s Planning and Environmental Protection Committee at their meeting (Tuesday), Nick Harding, head of planning, said: “The land is adjacent to existing playing fields at Ken Stimpson Community School and, while not much used by the school currently, there is a concern that any open fields area where children play makes their safeguarding an issue.
“The school is closely surrounded on three boundaries by a residential housing development.
“A 2.4m high fence similar to that found on school playing areas up and down the country would be erected denying access from the residential areas, but giving the children and their guardians a degree of safeguarding that is currently not there.
“City planning officers recommend the application be approved on the grounds of safeguarding of the children as there are no other schools in the Peterborough area whose playing fields are left open to public intrusion like this one is.”
Headteacher Bryan Erwin, who spoke in favour of the application, said: “This is a much-needed safeguarding arrangement that will alleviate the pressure on my staff who, at the moment, cannot be expected to patrol and safely cover such a large area where our children play.
“The issue of safeguarding in paramount to me, to the local authority and to my staff at the school. It is also a requirement of Ofsted that all children play areas are kept as safe as possible and restrict public access.
“We use the playing fields as part of our regular pattern on physical education and it should not be the duty of my staff to have to mitigate safety on a daily basis simply because of the lack of a fence.
“This fence is sadly something we need. There are very real risks of danger in the area, and Werrington like other areas suffers from anti-social behaviour.
“Currently, I cannot say to the parents of the children in my care that there won’t be an incident, either today or tomorrow, or in the future.”
Ward councillors John and Judy Fox, while supportive of the fence in principle, spoke against the application on the grounds that it is being erected in the wrong area.
Cllr John Fox said: “All of the pictures that have been shown to members today are well out of date, and these playing areas described by the school are not in fact the most used fields by the children who in the main access the footpaths around the perimeter as shortcuts to get home.
“Local residents have approached us with concerns that fencing off this field will prevent dog walkers and those who use it currently for leisure activities from gaining access to an area of land that doesn’t even belong to the school, but is public common land ceded to the people of Peterborough in the 1980s by the (development) corporation.
“While in principle we have no objections to a fence giving extra safeguarding to children play areas, there is a much more appropriate field just to the south that already has three marked-out football pitches on it and we would ask members to defer the application so that they might consider that field as an alternative.”
Two local residents, Tony Forster and David Barsby, also spoke against the application.
Mr Barsby said: “The field does not belong to the school, it is public land, but they do use it for children’s playing activities occasionally.
“Our main concern is that when the school is made an academy – as is inevitable – the land will become part of an asset given to the academy trust and it will be lost to the public forever.
“We know that the school use the land infrequently and our concerns are that it may yet become an asset to that academy trust that they might consider selling off at a significant profit.
“We are parents of children who go to the school, so we have concerns for safeguarding as much if not more than the teachers there, but this is not the right thing to be doing when there are other fields used far more frequently by the children that could be safeguarded better with a fence around them.
“We took a poll and 45 local residents were against this fence being erected – while only two local residents were in favour of it.”
Committee member Cllr Brian Rush said: “You say only two persons were in favour of the fence, but our documents say there were 39 people who approved of it?”
Mr Forster said: “Yes that is correct, but 37 of those 39 people live a considerable distance away from the school, some were teachers and persons associated with the school itself. Only two people who live local to the school said they approved the application.”
Cllr Christian Hogg said: “I hear what is being said about this location, but I think the fundamental principle of safeguarding the children has to remain paramount in our decision to erect this fence.”
Cllr Peter Hiller agreed: “I too have been to look at this site and there is no doubt that the public can and could access it at any time of the day as it currently stands.
“I understand there are plans for Vivacity to run an after-hours facility for locals to gain access to the field when the children are not using it and, therefore, I feel we must approve the application on the grounds of safeguarding the children at the school.”
Members voted to approve the application for the fence to be erected.