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New Bowerhill School is ‘going ahead’ but progress is much too slow say critics

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AFTER months of uncertainty, plans for a second primary school at Bowerhill are moving forward, but critics say progress is much too slow.

Wiltshire Council is to put in a planning application next year but say the school will only be built when other Melksham primary schools are full. And this has brought criticism from critics who want the scheme fast tracked.

As part of the new Pathfinder Place development in Bowerhill, land was allocated for a new school back in 2016. But despite the Pathfinder houses being built, there had been no news until now about the school, leading to fears that the scheme had been shelved.

Now, though, Wiltshire councillor Nick Holder said the scheme is going ahead. He said, “I have been asked many times about the progress of building the new primary school in Bowerhill and I can now confirm the first stage of the procurement process will start later this month which should lead to a contractor being appointed in early 2023.

“A formal planning application will then be brought forward in the middle of next year.

“It’s good news; the school is a long way from being built but the important thing is the planning application is going in and Wiltshire Council is in the process of getting a project manager employed and allocated to the project.

“I don’t know when it will be built. It’s all to do with the increasing birth rate, the increasing number of houses and when the existing schools are at full capacity. It will only get built when it’s needed, but the planning application is a very good first step.”

School needed sooner rather than later But the vice chair of Melksham Without Parish Council, cllr David Pafford, says this isn’t good enough.

He said, “We’re delighted to hear progress is being made but we need the school sooner rather than later.

“Wiltshire Council may say there are enough places for all the extra children in existing schools, but it’s no good if the place is on the other side of town; it’s got to be accessible.”

With new housing estates recently being built at Bowerhill, Berryfield and near Snowberry Lane, with more to come, primary school-aged children are already travelling to other schools in the town.

Cllr Pafford added, “The cycle and walkways are inadequate and involve going over the busy Western Way. It’s just not good enough; the new school is needed as a matter of urgency particularly as, along with the houses already built, there are two more estates coming on stream in the next year or so.

“If we don’t build the school until the other schools are at capacity, then that’s too late.”

Talking about plans for the new primary school, cllr Nick Holder added, “It’s planned to be a two-form entry school with capacity for two forms in every year but is likely, from what I’ve been told, that it could be built in phases, so could be built initially as a one-form entry and extended as demand increases, but that would depend on birth rates and capacity in the other schools.

“When I’ve been out and about at Bowerhill there have been comments about, ‘Will it ever get built?’ and there have always been rumours and speculation. It’s at a very early stage, the planning application will come forward next year, but this is the first step in what is a long, but welcome process.”

One Response to New Bowerhill School is ‘going ahead’ but progress is much too slow say critics

  1. Phil Chipper

    November 29, 2022 at 11:20 am

    I’d like to thank MWPC for directing me to the planning permission material for the Taylor Wimpey development and the light it shines on the requirement for the provision of school places and how they are funded. There was a lot of very interesting information relating to the provision and funding for Pathfinder way and Melksham itself.

    Firstly the £660k contribution from the Taylor Wimpey development for the school was calculated using a formula from Wiltshire Council. This also includes the number of places required as a result of the development. I should point out that I’m providing some simplified and rounded figures based on the WC formulas and figures in the planning permission documentation, which should be seen as indicative rather than absolute, but are none the less illuminating in terms of WC’s thinking.

    The TW development was expected to yield 325 houses of various types. Based on the figure of 325, WC calculated that 39 primary school places would be required. (NB this is a simplified ratio of approximately 8 places per house). This then had WC’s education needs multiplier formula applied, which yielded the £660k contribution requirement. This contribution to be paid 50% at the start of the development and the final 50% paid when half the development was practically complete/sold. Therefore the £660k contribution must have been with WC for some time now. (NB re “Index linking”, this only applies to the amount to be contributed by the developer prior to its actual supply, any retention of value to buying power is WC’s responsibility once it has the money). NB The document also effectively states that these contribtions form part/all of the Community Levy.

    The land for the school, approximately 2 hectares, was supplied by TW as this was WC’s specification of a footprint requirement for the school. However, 0.4 hectares would have to handed back by WC if it fails to be within one year of completion of the school’s construction, when the ten year anniversary of the transfer of ownership of the land takes place.

    The standard school size for a one form entry is 210 places. It is being suggested that the school on Pathfinder way should be a two-form entry, which then equates to 420 places. To give some perspective to that size of 420 places, it is effectively the size of the current Bowerhill school. Whose site, WC states, has no further capacity for expansion.

    So, lets look at how the Pathfinder way school would be financed. In the planning permission documentation WC’s education department states it expects that school to be funded by further housing expansion. It states that that the Semington road development contribution would be used for work on Aloeric school. The major eastern Melksham expansion should have provided the some/all of the funds for the new Forest and Sandridge school, however it’s not clear where funding for that school’s expansion plans will come from. If we go back to the TW contribution, that would have fully been made to WC some years ago, and disappeared into its overall finances. Maybe WC have set it aside for when the Pathfinder school goes ahead, but it’s equally possible it was used in other developments due to the poor state of WC’s finances over the past years, and its still ongoing budget deficit.

    So, some figures on how the school will need to be funded. As already shown based on the TW development there is a simplistic ratio of 1 school place per 8 houses built. On that basis if WC have retained the £660k funding for the original 39 places it will need to fund another 381, and therefore require 3175 houses to be built to achieve that. If however the £660K has been already used, then WC will need fund all 420 places, which equates to a further 3500 houses. So, another disclaimer here. These are rough figures based on one development instance, and I have no idea what margin of error there may be in them due to the simplification of WC’s allocation formula. However, I do believe that they are indictive of WC’s thinking in terms of housing development and education provision in Melksham. NB The figure of another 2500 houses for Melksham in the near future that gets bandied about by a number of local councillors, also provides a degree of substantiation to my calculations.

    So where will all of these houses be built ? The current trend is to expand Melksham eastwards, but this poses an issue re the school’s placement. I.E. The majority of the houses will be in an catchment area isolated from the school that is supposed to service it. If there is to be more large scale building to the east of Melksham then it would seem more sensible to build a school there. So are there plans for a large scale development around Bowerhill instead ? There is land available by the current A350 including the former golf course, and on it’s eastern fringes along the route of the proposed bypass.

    Also let’s not forget that schools have to be staffed, lit, heated, insured, etc. My time as a governor at Bowerhill, whilst some while ago, informs me that the costs of running a school of that size is substantial and getting the figures to balance was a challenge even then. That challenge must be so much harder now with increased wage bills and energy costs and with impending strictures on local and national government departmental budgets.

    There is also the paradox re the need to build the school, and the need to build the houses. To fund the school more houses need to be built, but the school is only really needed if those houses are built. No houses, no school. No houses, no real pressing need for the school. But if the school isn’t built in 10 years then the opportunity is lost, as the land claw back won’t, according to WC, leave a footprint large enough to build a viable school on. Therefore WC might seek to justify the additional houses on the basis that the Pathfinder way school won’t happen otherwise.

    It should also be noted that TW also had to provide for 47 additional places at the Melksham Oak school with a fiscal contribution of £1,022m as a result of the impact of its development. That’s a rough ratio of 1 school place per 7 houses built. If we look at the current capacity of the Oak which is stated as 1427 and a current role of 1269, as supplied by the government website, in relation to the number of houses that might be required to fund the Pathfinder way school we get some interesting figures in terms of the impact on the Oak school. 3175 houses = 459 more places. 3500 houses = 506 more places. Even 2500 houses requires 362 more places. The spare current headroom equals 158 places, which less than half the requirement if only 2500 houses were built. Again the same caveat re margins of accuracy apply, but not withstanding that there is every indication that the Oak will also need to expand substantially.

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