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Ashford College site to be redeveloped despite local protests

August 1, 2008 12:00 AM

Ashford's historic school buildingSpelthorne's Planning Committee has agreed on a majority vote to the demolition of the historic Spelthorne College building and its replacement with a massive modern, glass and steel structure. The three Liberal Councillors on the committee all voted against the scheme.

In place of the interesting and well designed frontage that dates from 1911, Ashford High Street will get something that is ugly enough to match the car park directly opposite. A special condition was attached to the grant of planning permission to make sure that the entrance doorway will be preserved but it is hard to image what this will achieve in the context of a modern glass building.

At the Planning committee meeting in June the proposed development failed to be agreed by 8 votes to 7, but a follow-up motion which was required to reject the application was not passed. This left the application hanging in limbo. The proposal was re-presented unchanged to the July meeting and this time passed by 8 votes to 5. Two Conservative Councillors who were not in favour in June did not attend the July meeting and one other changed sides.

During the debate pressure was applied on the Planning Committee by threats that the Learning and Skills Council would not provide funding for a new campus if the proposed application was not approved in its current form. The Liberal Democrats voted against this proposal not because they are against a new college on the site but because it was unsatisfactory on a number of planning grounds.

In our view it was a poor design that would not enhance the area and did not constitute the best available solution for Ashford. The steel and glass structure will be out of keeping with the High Street and will be positioned considerably closer to the road than the existing building. Being higher than all the surrounding buildings it will narrow the feel of the road. Other considerations included the reduced parking provision for an increased college staff and student body.

At the July meeting there was also a proposal for a new 34 flat development to the rear of the college site. This was passed by only 4 votes to 3 with 6 abstentions. Even the Tories knew that this was a dreadful application, but they felt the need to pass it because the proceeds from the sale of the land will be used to support the college re-development. In practice the housing development cannot proceed until the new college has been completed in over two years time. This was only an "outline" application, which means only the general form and number of units was agreed, but this is enough to sell the land to a developer with planning permission already in place.

The development history of this site is yet another example of how the Tories are prepared to grant planning permission to any development that they want to sanction without proper regard for local residents and the general environment in Spelthorne. They chose to ignore Spelthorne's Local Development Framework whenever it suits their purposes. Coming on the back of the infamous Benwell and Ashford Hospital site developments a clear pattern of Tory sanctioned over-development is emerging.