Bursted Woods school under fire over proposed ‘prison camp’ fence by popular open space, and threats to Sparrow habitat

Local residents are strongly objecting  to plans by Bursted Woods school to erect a long 2.1 metre (7′) tall metal fence along the access road at the western end of this well-used open space and Site of Importance for Nature Conservation.  A 200 signature petition was raised against the initial scheme, which also threatened House Sparrow habitat and was withdrawn. A revised proposal goes before Bexley Council’s planning committee on August 28th.

Visually intrusive

The fencing would be metal with small mesh to make it hard to climb, thereby presenting a visually intrusive solid ‘wall’ effect that will be out of keeping with the area, and will essentially create a cage around the roadway which, as Alan Ridout has said, will give the appearance of a prison camp more than that of a school.

Bursted towards Swanbridge

Bursted Woods Open Space looking towards Swanbridge Road. The fencing would extend down the hill to the start of the bend in the access road, negatively impacting the ‘open’ feel of the west end of the site.

Threat to Sparrow habitat 

Sparrow habitat

Sparrow habitat (left) under threat? The plans are now unclear about what will happen to it, but previous proposals have included a tarmac car park and a crass ‘tidying away’ in favour of biodiversity-poor mown grass.

The strip of green on the far (west) side of the road is important House Sparrow habitat. For some reason Swanbridge Road is a Sparrow hotspot, presumably because they are able to nest on the houses here, and there are usually 10 or so birds utilising this small patch of land at any one time. Previous iterations of the plan have threatened to tarmac it for car parking, or to ‘remove weeds and supply and lay new turf’ (i.e. remove Sparrow forage by tidying away and sanitising nature). It is not clear from the revised plan what the school intends to do with this area, but it will be affected by the proposed fence line.

Worryingly inaccurate information

In both applications, and in answer to the questions do ‘Protected and priority species’ and do ‘Designated sites, important habitats or other biodiversity features’ occur on, or ‘on land adjacent to or near the proposed development’ the school Governor applicants have quite erroneously said ‘No’. This is despite Bursted Woods being a SINC and House Sparrows (not to mention the resident Bats) being UK and London Biodiversity Action Plan priority species due to serious declines in numbers, all of which information is in the public domain and easily accessed on the internet. This degree of ignorance does not reflect well on an educational establishment, and suggests a worrying disengagement from the realities of the local environment, which is surely a prime teaching resource.

Health and safety overkill?

The school claims that all this is necessary because a transfer of land from Bexley Council, associated with it’s switch to Academy status, has left it with health and safety headaches. The original plan separated pedestrians from vehicles within the ‘cage’ with a second line of fencing, but the revised plan does not. So apart from some kind of ‘territory marking’ exercise, or a vast over-estimation of the likelihood of a member of the general public wandering onto this lightly-used road and getting run-over (there are no reports of any accidents here over many years), it is hard to see what the point of the exercise is, and it seems like yet another absurdly over-the-top response to a near non-existent ‘threat’. If the intention is to protect children in some way then the far greater risk is to those coming across Erith Road (then across the open space) to access the school. But no one is suggesting caging Erith Road.

Surely there are better things to spend money on?

In these times of financial stringency and major budget cuts, it seems unlikely that the Council would be spending thousands on a scheme like this, and it is worrying if the school does not have more productive educational needs to spend its money on, whether it’s in Local Authority control or not.

Access road

Does this lightly-used access road really need to be ‘caged’ in at great expense, in the absence of any evidence of significant risk or past accidents?

Unwelcoming ‘barriers’ to visitors?

It is also proposed to put a gate across the bottom of the access road, which will be shut most of the time and visible as one approaches from the west along Swanbridge Road. At a time when the Council is spending large amounts of lottery money trying to increase footfall at Lesnes by removing perceived ‘barriers’ to public usage, and installing fancy ‘gateways’, should it approve ‘industrial’ installations at Bursted that may have the opposite effect?

View from Swanbridge

View looking east from Swanbridge Road towards the proposed position of a gate across the road, which will be closed outside of school hours. This potential psychological ‘barrier’ seems to be at odds with Council thinking and spending at Lesnes.

Can someone please turn off the lights ….?

While we’re at it, perhaps someone could do something about the waste of energy and unnecessary light pollution of a known Bat site caused by the access road lights, seen here still blazing away at 10.35 p.m. on a summer night, being left on long after the school has closed and there is no traffic.

Lights at half past ten at night

Lights on at half past ten at night. You can see the moon, but not many stars. Let’s have our dark skies back and save money.

Bexley Natural Environment Forum and local residents remain opposed to the revised fencing plan, and have submitted objections, including pointing out the Sparrow habitat implications.

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