By Local Democracy Reporter Daniel Esson
The headteacher of a Ramsgate special needs school has voiced concerns over housing developments disrupting pupils’ learning.
Swathes of building sites have also made children’s bus journeys into Laleham Gap School “systematically worse”, he added.
Les Milton’s school in New Haine Road near Westwood Cross has become increasingly surrounded by major building sites.
They include a site earmarked for 500 homes off New Haine Road, currently in its second phase with 117 houses going up, and a drive-through car wash.
And further afield, 59 new business premises are under construction at the Westwood Industrial Estate off Nash Road, previously gutted by a 25-day long fire.
Mr Milton explained the school currently has “developments on three sides of us” which is reportedly proving a distraction for pupils.
He explained: “Because we are beside a road it is noisy and we are used to air pollution, but it’s the fact that where pupils have been for the last 6 years on this site being used to having privacy and self-regulating, they are now overlooked by big scaffolding structures that change on a daily basis.
“I’m not being at all derogatory towards workmen, but they do have their radios on, they are shouting at each other over the noise to communicate. There are lots of warning signals and warning siren sounds, which obviously big construction vehicles need for health and safety reasons.
“When they have the massive concrete pumps pumping away, they generate a huge amount of noise but also they’re really visually distracting.
“That’s not helpful outside of classrooms for special needs kids who have difficulty with their concentration.”
Thanet District Council’s planning committee met on April 19 to discuss the application from David Wilson Homes – an offshoot brand from housebuilding giant Barratt Developments.
The developers first won approval for the 500-home estate in April 2022.
The bid was split into sections – full permission was given to build 178 homes, of which construction has already started, and outline permission was given for 322 more.
The developers have now received approval for the layout, scale and infrastructure for 117 of the 322 outlined homes, which they describe as “a viable and sustainable development” and says it will lead to a “high-quality living environment”.
But as plans press ahead Mr Milton is becoming concerned for “highly sound sensitive pupils” who “need open air spaces so that they can self-regulate when they are in times of what we call dysregulation.
“Our young autistics need to be able to get outdoors, walk, not be observed, be left alone and to start getting things straight in their own mind about what’s just happened and how they can move on from that situation,” he continued.
And Mr Milton said the school’s minibus, which collects many students, has been delayed by increased traffic in the area due to developments.
“Every morning and every evening their journeys are made systematically worse by the amount of development that’s going on around us,” he said.
“Tarmac lorries, delivery lorries, vehicles on double yellow lines, rubbish.
“Some of the machinery they use for putting tarmac roadworks in the estate is just huge, and that’s left running and parked outside the school the whole time.
“If we had air quality measurements I suspect we’d fail all of them.”
Laleham Gap School’s governing body objected from the start when the 500-home application came before TDC last year.
It argued the development would reduce students’ privacy, overlook school buildings, and lead to increased traffic.
Amy Tamplin attended a meeting of TDC’s planning committee on behalf of the developers to speak in support of the proposals.
She assured members the development “was sensitive to the context, in particular the schools adjacent”.
“Concerns were raised by a councillor and parents of children who attend Laleham Gap School in terms of the resulting loss of privacy and increased noise,” she said.
“We worked proactively alongside the planning officer to ensure this was addressed.”
Ms Tamplin told how plans had been altered to make the buildings nearest to the school two-storey rather than three, saying “This significantly reduces the overlooking and privacy concerns.”
She went on to say that a construction management plan is in place to reduce noise impact on the school and nearby residents.
The application for 117 of the homes attracted four new written objections to the planning committee.
Parent Andy Wood wrote: “Barratt David Wilson have done nothing to mitigate the noise/pollution and traffic during construction, which clearly demonstrates a lack of interest in the wellbeing of the community and residents, and has a direct negative impact on our child and our school.
“The noise and pollution and traffic due to construction is already impacting the pupils’ learning.
“I feel very strongly about these applications, having a child with autism at the school; we chose the school for its remote location.
“There’s not a care in the world for the impact on the school and its pupils and their complex needs.”
The design of the blocks came under fire from councillors at the planning committee meeting.
Cllr Mike Garner (Green), slated the designs, saying “some of these buildings look particularly bland and awful to me.”
Cllr Helen Crittenden (Lab) expressed similar sentiments: “I do despair at the lack of imagination on the architectural design of some of our flats.”
The plans were passed by the planning committee with nine votes in favour, two against and two abstentions.