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Updated: Key Question Remains Over Rising Ash Population: Can Schools Cope?

Published on: 6 Dec, 2023
Updated on: 7 Dec, 2023

Ash Grange School Logo

By David Reading

A date for the expansion of Ash Grange Primary School to meet the growing population has still not been agreed by Surrey County Council – 16 months after questions were first raised by The Guildford Dragon NEWS.

Back in July 2022 campaigners posed searching questions about large sums of money that house developers have provided to support schools in the Ash and Tongham area.

They were concerned that the money must genuinely be used to benefit the schools that need it most – such as Ash Grange.

Their fears stemmed from the rising population generated by large-scale developments in the area. The key overall question was, and still is: will schools be able to cope with the influx of large numbers of extra pupils?

See also: Ash Aspect: Ash and Tongham Will Cope With Population Boom, Say Authorities

Developers are obliged to support local infrastructure, including education, through Section 106 legal agreements with Guildford Borough Council which require compensatory payments. If the funds are not spent according to the agreements, the developers can reclaim the money, leaving no benefits for the local community.

In the case of education, the money they provide is intended to facilitate extra school places that will be needed to address the growing population. This is the province of Surrey County Council.

The headteacher at Ash Grange, Mrs Marie Curtis, said the rising population makes it vital that Ash Grange should benefit from funds for expansion.

In January 2023, Cllr Tom Hunt, Guildford Borough Council’s lead councillor for Planning Development, told us that the council was holding the following funds for schools and nurseries in the Ash and Tongham areas:

  • Early Years – £321,367.67
  • Primary education – £2,647,551.94 (of which £2,558,716.14 is specifically for Ash Grange School)
  • Secondary education – £352,084.59

He said all this had been collected from developers in line with Section 106 legal obligations.

Surrey County Council has now acknowledged that 16 months after The Dragon raised the issue, Ash Grange had still received no Section 106 money from the county council. However, in a further message (December 7), SCC added: “Any S106 monies that have been nominated for the expansion of Ash Grange Primary School will be safeguarded for the potential expansion of Ash Grange Primary School.”

Cllr Sue Wyeth-Price

Cllr Sue Wyeth-Price (R4GV), who represents Ash South on Guildford Borough Council, says there have been indications that the Section 106 money allocated for education in Ash could be spent elsewhere in Surrey.

Her particular concern, she said, is that contributions could be steered away from Ash Grange, which urgently needs funding, and given instead to St Paul’s CofE Infant School in Tongham, which is a Church of England school and therefore not fully inclusive.

Addressing this possibility today (December 7), SCC said that for this to happen, the council would have to secure the agreement of both the developer and GBC in order to change the nominated project or school. The money could not just be “steered away” by the county council as suggested.

There are currently plans to expand St Paul’s into a primary school with nursery classes from September 2025. Building work would be required and should the proposal be agreed, the county council accepts it could “utilise unallocated S106 contributions from developments within the Ash and Tongham planning area”.

Cllr Wyeth-Price said she wanted to be sure that Ash Grange, too, was able to meet the demands posed by the growing population.

Ash Grange School

A statement from SCC said: “A date for permanent expansion at Ash Grange is still to be confirmed.

“As Surrey County Council have stated previously, the Education Authority has to balance such an expansion against the need for places in the long term, whilst being careful not to over-provide school places that could lead to instability in the area.”

That was exactly the same wording as the statement received in July 2022.

Asked about the situation with regard to other schools in the area, the SCC statement referred to the plans to expand St Paul’s, Tongham, into a primary school with a nursery.

The statement said: “A public consultation ran from 18 September 2023 to 5 November 2023 to ask for views on the proposed expansion. Should this proposal be agreed, the county council plans to utilise unallocated S106 contributions from developments within the Ash and Tongham planning area. There are no present expansion plans at any of the other primary schools within Ash and Tongham.”

Ash Grange headteacher Mrs Curtis confirmed that her school had received no money.

“I have heard nothing to indicate the money is there,” she said. “I have been reassured that funds remain but there is no movement by the local authority to start the build for developing Ash Grange to take account of the very real expanding community.

“As a group of schools, we asked for a residential survey last summer as we believe there are more children in the area than the local authority is aware of as the census data is very much out of date.  In response, it was stated that the figures remain about the same, then and now.”

Asked whether the rising population had any effect on the school’s ability to cope, Mrs Curtis replied: “Classes are full. If someone moves the place is soon filled.  This year there seems to be more families at open day events. We hold three and normally have around 15 families at each. We have 40 at today’s and had 30 at the last one.”

Cllr Wyeth-Price said SCC made it clear in a letter sent to her in July 2023 that some Section 106 money earmarked for education might be spent outside Ash. It was deeply concerning, she said, that the money could be spent elsewhere in Surrey.

 She said the SCC letter told her viability studies were being conducted to decide where action should be taken to meet the forecast need for places and to sustain schools within the planning area.

The letter added: “Surrey County Council is seeking to use some of the S106 funds collected for primary education towards these places, should the viability studies prove favourable. Any proposals will be discussed with local schools and any other school which may be impacted. Some of these may be out of the immediate area or in another district or borough.”

Cllr Wyeth-Price told the Guildford Dragon: “As you know, there are plans to expand St Paul’s into being a junior school and a nursery school. The land is owned by the church. The expansion will mean a huge expenditure to provide new buildings. It will reduce demand not at Walsh or Ash Grange but at Waverley Abbey, which is the Church of England school that takes children from St Paul’s Infants, also a church school.

“There are other important factors. For example, Ash Grange already has planning permission to extend and has fractionally more land available. Ash Grange is closer to many of the new houses. Parents and children will not have to rely on a car to access Ash Grange, as they will have to for St Paul’s.

“In addition to this, St Paul’s is CofE. A lot of the new residents in the Ash area are of Asian origin, and many are Hindu or Muslims.  This fact doesn’t seem to have been considered.”

SCC is adamant there will be no problem at Ash Grange. Asked how many children are on the waiting list for attendance at Ash Grange, the SCC statement said: “Across all seven year groups, there are 66 pupils awaiting a place at Ash Grange Primary School.  It is worth noting that many of these pupils are likely to be attending other local schools and therefore do not necessarily still require a place. Any parent can choose to apply for a school regardless of proximity.”

In a later statement (Thursday, December 7) SCC provided details on what would have to happen for money to be steered away from a nominated project, saying: “Where a particular school or project are nominated in the legal agreement for the allocation and spend of s106 monies, the county council has to secure the agreement of both the developer and Guildford BC in order to change the nominated project or school.

“The change then needs to be recorded in a deed of variation entered into by all the parties to the original agreement, which then alters the terms of the original s106 agreement.

“As a result the allocation cannot be just steered away by the county council as has been suggested.”

SCC added: Any S106 monies which have been earmarked to support the proposed expansion of St Paul’s CofE Infant School did not have a project nominated against the development.”

SCC has also provided a statement relating to the expansion of Ash Manor School: “Ash Manor has been expanded by 2FE since 2021, raising the total number of places available each year to 270 per year group from September 2024. These expansions have utilised the entirety of secondary S106 contributions available for the local area as the expansion of the school was a named project. The school also took an additional class in 2023 to cater for a bulge class leaving Ash Grange Primary School.”

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Responses to Updated: Key Question Remains Over Rising Ash Population: Can Schools Cope?

  1. Jules Cranwell Reply

    December 7, 2023 at 5:43 am

    This is going to be the same in the former green belt villages, thanks to the disastrous Tory Local Plan. Campaigners have been pointing out since the draft version of the plan was made public that infrastructure cannot cope with such a massive influx of new residents. As well as education, the same is true for the health services, roads, sewage and water supply.

    A review of the Local Plan is beyond vital, to avoid further collapse of our infrastructure.

  2. Helena Townsend Reply

    December 7, 2023 at 9:32 pm

    You can hardly compare the Horsleys to what the residents of Ash have had to endure.

    U was speaking to friends who live in Horsley, none are particularly bothered as development is so minor.

    Hoping Wisley gets approved to balance the housing so everyone gets their fair share.

    • Jules Cranwell Reply

      December 8, 2023 at 2:13 pm

      A 40 per cent increase in housing stock can hardly be considered to be minor. Ash has had nowhere near that. We have no availability at the medical centre. We have no availability at schools. The roads are wrecked. Maybe Ms Townsend should visit, before passing judgement.

      It’s too bad the former Tory leader at GBC failed in his odious attempt to confer new green belt status on Ash, whilst stealing away from the eastern villages.

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