COUNCILLORS have defied experts’ recommendation and rejected plans for Oxford’s new Swan School. 

The shock decision was made shortly after 8.30pm last night at Oxford Town Hall, with a majority vote of Oxford City Council’s planning committee. 

Council officers had recommended they approved the plan but the vote was swung with four in favour of rejection and three against.


Council supports Swan School despite concerns 

Is this a better location for the Swan School?

Swan School bosses had proposed building the 1,260-pupil secondary school in Marston, at the site of the current Harlow Centre off Marston Ferry Road.

Oxford Mail:

It would be the city's first new secondary school since the early 1960s. 

It could be a major blow for the Swan School, which is due to open in temporary buildings next September.

The free school's proposed location has proved controversial with residents, however, with key concerns including traffic safety and congestion.

Many critics who spoke at the meeting noted how the proposed access road for vehicles cuts across one of the busiest cycle lanes in the city.

Oxford Mail:

Though there would be strict limits on when cars can enter and exit the site, and wardens would be in place at peak times to manage the intersection, several councillors remained concerned about safety.

One Marston resident who took to the microphone warned the site will become an ‘accident black spot’, while Marston Parish Council member Peter Wiliams branded the plan a ‘recipe for disaster’.

A statement read to the committee from Simon Hunt, chairman of Oxford cycling group Cyclox, said he 'strongly objects' to that aspect of the plan.

His statement described the Marston Ferry Road cycle lane - used by hundreds of children from Cherwell School - as one of the 'best cycle tracks in the nation'. 

Oxford Mail:

He said plans to mitigate the risk were 'wholly inadequate'.

A government agency called the ESFA is responsible for finding sites for free schools, and a council officer who spoke at the meeting said the proposed location was found to be the best of 29 possible sites looked at across the city. 

Swan School supporters addressed the committee about an urgent need for more secondary school places in Oxford, particularly in Marston.

Oxfordshire County Council's pupil place planning manager said: "Soaring pupil numbers will make it harder for pupils to get a place at a school of their choice.

"This extra pressure will be felt most acutely in Oxford from September 2019, and this is how we avert it."

Paul James, chief executive of the River Learning Trust (the multi-academy trust in charge of the Swan School), warned councillors there would be a 'crisis in secondary school places' if the school does not open in time.

Councillors David Henwood, Nigel Chapman and John Tanner voted for the plan, but councillors Mary Clarkson, Mark Lygo, Roz Smith and Alex Hollingsworth voted against.

Councillor Shaista Aziz voted against a motion to approve the school, but abstained from the vote to refuse it. Councillor Stef Garden also abstained.

Key issues councillors raised were concerns about cyclists and pedestrians' safety due to cars cutting across their path, and the site's location in Green Belt land.

Oxford Mail:

The refusal was unexpected and triggered loud applause from residents in the meeting room. 

Council officers warned councillors their reasons for refusal must be 'carefully considered' and must be made on planning grounds rather than personal opinion.

Developers have not confirmed if the refusal will further delay the school's opening.

John Tanner admitted he had concerns about the site's location in the Green Belt and 'all sorts of doubts' about travel, but said issues 'can be overcome' and instead stressed the 'desperate need' for school places.

Speaking during the meeting, he said: "We will get no thanks if, in five years' time, kids haven't got anywhere to go to school.

"This will benefit people in Oxford."

Mary Clarkson was among those who voiced strong opposition.

The councillor said: "I simply can't accept allowing cars across the most popular and heavily-used cycle track in the city.

"When planning a school to be used for generations, it needs to be the best. I don't think this is it."

Roz Smith acknowledged the need for school places but said it was a 'great shame' the design was not more environmentally-friendly.

She added: "I think we need to go back to the drawing board and perhaps come back with a smaller school."

Nigel Chapman also voiced concerns, including the impact of informal drop-off outside and around the school when parents are in a rush and flout rules.

But he echoed the need for school places and said he understood the 'pain' of children and families when a pupil does not get a preferred place.

He added: "I'm prepared to give the benefit of the doubt to the school that the applicants will do everything they humanly can to make sure the risks [of travel safety] are mitigated."

Earlier in the evening, both Mr James and the Swan School's appointed headteacher Kay Wood addressed the planning committee.

Ms Wood expressed her determination to make the school 'first class' and offer children 'truly exceptional' education and experiences.

She added that children's safety was the school's 'number one priority' and proposed plans to appease traffic concerns were 'not just empty promises'.

But neither Swan School representatives nor council officers could sway the decision, and refusal was agreed on the basis of:

- Benefits of scheme not outweighing the harm to Green Belt

- Risks to pedestrians and cyclists caused by the crossing

Councillors were advised not to refuse the application on highways grounds because the highways authority itself had not objected.

Swan School developers have not confirmed yet if they plan to appeal the planning committee's decision or what their next step will be.