I am co-chairman of the Farnham Bunch Lane Triangle Association, although on this occasion I am writing in a personal capacity.
In earlier editions the paper have covered the controversy surrounding the proposed migration of the Royal Junior School from its Hindhead campus to its Farnham Lane campus, and I consider it important your readers should be aware of the background, as this story unfolds.
The controversy surrounds the volume of traffic that will be generated by this move and its impact on the residents of Farnham Lane, which is described by Surrey Highways as a “residential, long and very narrow sunken lane with very limited/no real scope to increase capacity” and by the signage at the bottom of the road as a ‘narrow single track road with passing places’.
The origins of the Royal Naval School, as it was known, can be traced back to Twickenham in the 1840s, but this then boarding girls’ school moved to the top of Farnham Lane during the Second World War in response to bombing.
In 1995 the school merged with The Grove School (currently The Royal Junior School at Hindhead) and in the intervening years has changed to a co-educational school with an increasing proportion of day pupils.
Also in 1997, in response to improvements in facilities at the Farnham Road site, and concerns of residents about growing traffic volumes, the school entered into a S106 agreement – an agreement under Section 106 of the Town and Country Planning Act 1990 which allows a local planning authority to enter into a legally-binding agreement or planning obligation with a landowner as part of the granting of planning permission – that restricts the total number of pupils at the school to 350 of whom no more than 200 should be day pupils.
In 2019, having fallen into financial difficulties, the school was acquired in a last-minute rescue by United Learning, a charity with roots in the 19th century and connections to the Church of England, which today owns and operates some 96 schools in both the state and private sector.
Initially, the new owners announced they would close the Farnham Lane campus and consolidate at Hindhead, which has the advantage of good access to the A3.
At the same time, residents of Farnham Lane were concerned as to what would become of the Farnham Lane campus, a concern which was a primary driver for the formation of the Farnham Bunch Lane Triangle Association, although the association has much wider interests.
About a year into its ownership, UL reversed its strategy and announced it would consolidate on the Farnham Lane campus.
This change of strategy appears to have been driven by a number of factors. It seems UL had not initially appreciated the planning restrictions that would be imposed on the Farnham Lane site in view of its proximity to the Hindhead Special Protection Area.
The new headmistress of the senior school was drawn to the attractiveness of the site. And importantly, it appears UL were encouraged by Waverley, who saw the opportunity to fill a gap in meeting their housing requirements in their local plan by allowing the Hindhead site to be developed.
UL moved ahead quickly, and sold the Hindhead site, presumably conditional on planning consent being granted.
This, and the need to provide certainty to parents, led them to announce they would be consolidating both schools on the Farnham Lane campus in September 2023.
They submitted an application for a revision to the existing S106 agreement in January 2022 to accommodate their long-term growth plans.
The consultants employed by UL argued residents had been consulted and proposed the pupil cap be removed and replaced by a movement cap, expressed only for the peak hour in both the morning and afternoon.
This consultation had amounted only to a presentation to residents, given at the senior school in December 2021, at which no indication had been given the proposal was ready for submission.
The consultants have now submitted three applications, each intended to satisfy the concerns of Surrey highways. It remains to be seen what reaction the latest application will be given.
Unfortunately, residents’ opposition has hardened such that residents now oppose any change to the existing restrictions on pupil numbers even though the proportion of boarders has reduced, seemingly irreversibly.
Residents’ concerns are felt to have been ignored and as the implications of the proposals have sunk in, it has become clear the proposed traffic volumes will be hugely damaging – to the environment and to the lives of residents, let alone pupils and parents.
One of the biggest problems arises from the introduction of pupils in Reception class and Years 1 and 2 (an age group who have never been at the Farnham Lane campus before) who for safeguarding reasons quite obviously cannot travel unaccompanied by minibus. Movement of these pupils more than offsets the reduction in movements if all older pupils use minibuses, and the lane remains as narrow as it was when the existing agreement was made, with no realistic possibility of enlargement.
The proposals rely on complete use of minibuses for the Year 3 to 13 pupils. Even if this were achievable, the in-town proposed pick-up points are unrealistic:
- The Fairground car park: to be developed – by Waverley!
- The Edge: already gridlocked with traffic as pupils arrive at and leave Woolmer Hill School;
- Waitrose car park: usually full mid-afternoon and with spaces too small for a minibus; and finally
- The Devil’s Punch Bowl car park, which The National Trust have informed us cannot be used as a pick-up point.
These proposals and the increased traffic heading to and from Farnham Lane will aggravate the already-severe congestion in the centre of our town and in the Wey Hill area in particular.
I fear that, unless UL revise their plans, opposition from residents and the day-to-day challenge of navigating this mile-long narrow, single-file lane with passing places will lead to the failure of the school and the consequent disruption to its pupils’ education which would be a shipwreck.
The school appears to be delivering a good and broad education for its pupils. It can only be hoped that UL will amend their proposals to something that would be acceptable to the residents of Farnham Lane and the wider community.
It is patently obvious that, in the 21st century, the site would never be selected for a new school. Demand for boarding schools is declining.
The school is, however, already there and clearly needs to predominantly be a day school. My request is the school should respect the constraints the site imposes.
Stoatley Rise, Haslemere