AN ‘IMPOSSIBLE’ plan to force school traffic across one of Oxford’s busiest cycle lanes looks set for approval despite safety fears.

Oxford City Council officers have officially recommended that plans for Marston’s new 1,260-pupil Swan School should be passed next Wednesday.

The River Learning Trust plans to open the secondary school at the site of the current Harlow Centre in September 2019, starting in temporary buildings while its permanent home is built.

Oxford Mail:

A 3D design for the Swan School. Picture: Infinite 3D Ltd/ Galliford Try

Residents remain concerned about the access road routing cars across the Marston Ferry Road cycle path, which Old Marston Parish Council has branded an ‘accident waiting to happen’.

But a report published by city council planners yesterday stated: “The site has been selected following an extensive search, with the need to provide secondary school places within a tight timeframe being an inescapable reality.

“Design, massing and layout has been carefully adjusted after a long period of consultation and reviews.”

Oxford Mail: Initial designs detailing what the new Swan School could look like. Pic: Infinite 3D Ltd/ Galliford Try

A 3D design for the Swan School. Pic: Infinite 3D Ltd/ Galliford Try

It said developers had addressed safety concerns to produce a ‘comprehensive, holistic proposal’.

Councillors have been advised to permit the plan at a meeting at Oxford Town Hall, one week today, subject to 37 conditions.

Swan School developers recorded 500 cyclists using the Marston Ferry Road cycle path during one morning rush hour.

Oxford Mail:

Marston Ferry Road and the cycle path, left. Picture: Ed Nix

Many are pupils at The Cherwell School nearby and their safety will rest with two wardens, who will marshal the intersection during peak hours.

Although cyclists will have priority, wardens will halt cyclists while cars move in and out of the school.

An objection lodged by Old Marston Parish Council warns: “The entrance design for cyclists, pedestrians and car drivers merging is an accident waiting to happen.

“Traffic congestion is already severe at peak times and any addition will make the situation impossible.”

Oxford Mail:

Old Marston parish councillors on Marston Ferry Road yesterday. Picture: Ed Nix

Though vehicles will only be allowed in and out of the site at certain times, and the school’s start and finish time will not clash with neighbouring schools', parish councillors said management of the cross-section was ‘inadequate’ and ‘unworkable’.

The city council’s report yesterday said: “It is accepted that a vehicle access across the cycle lane is not ideal or welcomed, and this aspect of the development has clearly been of great concern to Oxford residents.

“[But] the scheme ensures priority for cyclists and pedestrians is retained and includes a variety of measures to minimise conflicts between pedestrians, cyclists and vehicles.”

Oxfordshire County Council, the highways authority, has also backed the application and said access ‘meets the required standards’.

Oxford Mail:

A 3D design for the Swan School. Pic: Infinite 3D Ltd/ Galliford Try

The county council’s response did, however, raise concerns about the ‘questionable legal status of the wardens’, adding: “Requiring cyclists to give way is not likely to be workable given the high peak time cycle movements.”

More than 200 comments from residents were lodged in response to the Swan School application.

Although 43 spoke in support and echoed the need for school places, many objected to the location and issues of traffic, pollution, parking, drainage and loss of Green Belt.

Among objectors was councillor Suzanne Bartington, the county council’s cycling champion, who cited ‘major concerns’ about access.

Oxford Mail:

Dr Suzanne Bartington.

Her consultation response states: “The Marston Ferry Road route is a premier cycle route in Oxfordshire.

“The path is exceptionally well used by students and staff travelling to the Cherwell School site, which sets the gold standard for active travel in the UK.”

Dr Bartington was among several who called for an underpass to be built to maintain an uninterrupted cycle lane.

But the city council’s report states: “An underpass would be likely to cause harm, by creating an inhospitable cycling and walking environment and a significant landscape intrusion.”

During the build, construction vehicles will not be allowed access during peak times and a 'banksman' will walk vehicles across the cycle lane.

Oxford Mail:

A 3D design for the Swan School. Pic: Infinite 3D Ltd/ Galliford Try

Concertina barriers will be pulled across to temporary block passage for cyclists and pedestrians while construction vehicles cross.

The River Learning Trust’s chief executive Paul James said: “We are delighted city council officers have joined their counterparts at the county council in backing our attempt to tackle the impending secondary school places crisis in Oxford.

"It doesn't mean councillors are going to act on their advice - we are not counting our chickens in any way - and we hope to make a strong case at next week's planning meeting.

"Parish councillors and everyone living around the school should be in no doubt that we take the traffic issue very seriously and will do all we can, now and when the school opens, to deal with any problems.”

Mr James said experts would not have given their approval if they thought the proposal posed a safety risk.

He noted access to Cherwell, run by the same trust, also cuts across the cycle path and works safely.

The city council said the Swan School will address an 'identified requirement for additional secondary school places in Oxford'.

A spokesman added: "Concerns over the intended access to the school from Marston Ferry Road and the risk this could pose to cyclists on the parallel cycle-path – particularly to children cycling to either Cherwell or the proposed Swan School – have been addressed through the travel plan put forward by the developer.

"This will involve access restrictions for vehicles during the travel-to-school and school-leaving windows.

"The travel plan will be reassessed annually to ensure it is effective."