Expansion of Oak Bank School gets approval by Central Beds Council

An expansion of a “world class” special school in Central Bedfordshire has been approved, despite concerns about the impact of traffic on local residents.

Three new classrooms can be built at Oak Bank School in Leighton Buzzard to accommodate 12 more pupils.

The development will add 12 parking spaces and a turning area for vehicles, mainly taxis which ferry children to and from the premises, Central Bedfordshire Council’s development management committee heard.

The Sandy Lane school became an academy in 2012 and serves pupils from key stage two onwards with special educational needs, according to planning officer James Peck.

It has a catchment area across Central Bedfordshire and which includes surrounding local authorities, he said.

Conservative Leighton Buzzard North councillor Ken Ferguson raised fears about “traffic mayhem”, describing it as “horrendous”.

“It’s all very well to say there will be more parking spaces on site, but it doesn’t necessarily say those will be used or mean they won’t park in Sandy Lane.

“If the school gates were open, I don’t think there would be a problem. It’s not feasible to have another school entrance.”

Conservative Leighton Buzzard North councillor Ewan Wallace said: “This is a unique school with unique children, and it’s a difficult application.

“There’s a problem with a large number of taxis, most with diesel engines, idling outside the school for a long time. Another access isn’t possible.”

But Leighton Buzzard South councillor David Bowater referred to an “adequate drop-off area” in the school.

“It’s very rare there’s any queue from the gate,” he said. “We could potentially lose a wonderful facility from the town and area for ever.

“This is a world class special school. I’m very proud it’s in the town I represent.

“CBC want this and are paying for three more classrooms. It’s essential with our current issues with special educational needs and disability (SEND).”

There are 56 parking spaces currently and four of the additional 12 are likely to be taken by extra staff.

Executive head teacher Peter Cohen said the extra classrooms serve local children with “an education, health and care plan (EHCP) identifying social, emotional and mental health needs as their primary difficulty”.

The school was judged outstanding by Ofsted in 2015 and 2019, he told the committee.

“There will be increased capacity to manage taxis on the school premises,” he explained. “But taxis arriving early or late is out of our control.

“The school works hard to get local authorities to adhere to the start and finish times.”

A more staggered start to the school day would be likely to increase the number of taxis arriving and add to the cost for those authorities, he added.

“We don’t want pupils alighting without staff available or to create a bigger problem of children with special educational needs not being supervised.

“That would be a serious safeguarding concern. Every child has a key worker.

“It’s the only way we can ensure we keep them safe once they’ve arrived at school.”

Leighton Buzzard North councillor and committee member Brian Spurr said: “It’s a nightmare for the residents living near a school. Parking is the big issue.

“This one needs to get back to traffic management and we need to look at its travel plan.

“This application will improve the current traffic problems by putting in turning circles and adding more parking.

“This school is exceptional. It needs our support, while we need its support.”

Councillors unanimously approved the development.