My question is to the Lead Member for Children’s Services regarding the proposals for a new Special Educational Needs and Disabilities (SEND) school in Winnersh.
There is much clinical evidence published that shows that major highways have an adverse effect on the health and wellbeing of children who live near or attend schools adjacent to major highways, both from the failing air quality and from the noise pollution. I have no doubt that any new building design will mitigate against noise, but children are not just confined to just four walls. As a SEND teacher I became acutely aware of how sensitive some children can be and how debilitating this can be for them. Worryingly the Council is proposing to build a school next to one of the busiest and expanding motorways in the UK, which again research has shown has the greatest impact on the health of our residents because of the poor air quality. Anything about 100 on the boundaries between index points for each pollutant is harmful. Therefore, will the Council conduct extensive air monitoring exercises and publish its results before any planning approval is considered? I’m sure you will agree, safeguarding our children is paramount.
First of all, it is great news that we are able to work with the Department for Education and Reading Borough in bringing forward a much-needed and welcomed facility in Wokingham Borough.
We are very conscious of the potential air quality and noise issues surrounding the site and our technical teams have already carried out initial impact assessments on these matters and it demonstrated that the noise and air quality levels were acceptable.
These assessments have helped us identify the best location for the school to the western end of the site which is furthest from the motorway and adjacent to the existing Wheatfield Primary School.
All of these studies have been carried out in association with the Department for Education and they are also satisfied that the levels are acceptable.
Further, more detailed studies will be carried out by the Department for Education as part of the Planning Application process and will then be considered by the Local Planning Authority, which of course is us.
Obviously, I am pleased that some monitoring is already taking place. However, this is not the first time that a similar concern has been raised. The Executive Member for Environment on 23 February 2017 replied to a resident’s questions regarding pollutants associated with the M4 motorway at Winnersh. The Executive Member quoted the Government’s warning of the uncertainties, including increased traffic, and in order to monitor concentrations of pollution from the M4. In light of those uncertainties and the possibility of pollution levels exceeding the Air Quality Index of 100, that is the safe level, anything above that and children with special educational needs will suffer, and noise levels rising about 50Db, again children with special educational needs will suffer with anything above that. Can we really be confident that Warren Farm and the area that you have identified next to the other primary school is a safe location now and into the future as a site for children with learning disabilities and co-morbid conditions? Once built there is no turning back.
As I have already explained, we have done assessments already. The Department for Education is involved and I am certain that they will ensure that this school will be put in a place where no child will be put in any danger in any shape or form.