Community involvement in new Academies

Back in November I organised a meeting for residents of Blackhurst Lane, Sandown Park and roads off, all of whom were concerned about plans for a new Academy in place of the previous Tunbridge Wells High School.  Over a hundred turned out for the evening meeting, and along with officers from Kent County Council we answered fifty five questions during the two hour meeting.  I was also asked to ensure that both the presentation and the note of the meeting was available on the web, and I’ve done that on the ‘Skinners’ Kent Academy’ page which you’ll find above this posting.

This was no ‘gathering of nimbys’ – local residents have no objection to a new state-of-the-art education facility on their doorstep.  What they fear is a massive influx of vehicles and deliveries without any thought being given to traffic management at the junction with Pembury Road; and having no say in the positioning of the new school buildings.

You can’t really blame them for having these concerns – since the new sports hall was built the build up of traffic is frustrating, particularly when team sports events are held and every team member arrives in another car, blocking the narrow Blackhurst Lane and on more than one occasion actually parking across the gated entrance to the entire Badgers Holt development.

All these local residents want is for their voice to be listened to – about the volume of traffic from the new Academy on local residential roads.  They told us that even when the High School had only a few hundred pupils (and no Sixth Form) the car parking and traffic movements was chaotic; when the new Academy is full, this will potentially add six hundred or more pupils, plus a full Sixth Form, many of whom will drive cars.

The argument is of course, that the new Academy will only return the pupil numbers to the level that Tunbridge Wells High was supposed to have, so technically there will be no growth over the original number.  But the reality may be very different, and must be taken into account when the new buildings are planned.

So I was really pleased when the Academies programme was discussed at yesterday’s meeting of the KCC Cabinet.  I was able to suggest what local residents had suggested – that the local community are involved and consulted as the plans go forward.  Both Paul Carter, the Leader and Sarah Hohler, Education Cabinet Member felt this would be a good thing.  Since the Skinners Kent Academy is to be the model for the remainder of Kent’s new Academies, it’s a model which is likely to be adopted across the county.

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