New communities, same old problems

14th January 2005 at 00:00
The South East building boom should mean many more jobs and exciting new schools. As James Heartfield found, the reality does not match the dream

ngry residents protested at plans to increase the size of their new village at a public meeting at Monkfields primary school, Cambourne near Cambridge, last year. The school, whose population has expanded from 5 to 420 since it opened in 1999, performs many functions: it is the only building there, apart from a giant supermarket, that is not a house.

The overspill village, built on mostly agricultural land, serves young couples working in Cambridge's expanding new technology sector.

Unsurprisingly, it is undergoing a school-age population boom. Already plans for a second school - this one denominational - are in the pipeline.

The rush to build is what happens when communities are not properly planned.

In December 2000, John Prescott personally welcomed new residents at the Ralph Erskine-designed Greenwich Millennium Village. To show that this was not just more riverside yuppie flats but a real community, Erskine had designed a combined school and health centre - except that an old school, Annandale, had to be relocated from the centre of Greenwich to the Dome peninsula - threequarters of a mile away - to provide the pupils for the new showpiece. It was a real Potemkin village.

A few families objected at first, but most changed their minds when they saw the Millennium primary school building. The headteacher, Amanda Dennison, is keen to keep links with the rest of Greenwich to stop an "us-and- them" mind-set, so has kept the old catchment area. The school, which plans to grow from one to two-form entry, serves around ten of the families in the Millennium Village proper; of these, the majority are in the 20 per cent of new homes earmarked for social housing.

In Custom House, a mile and quarter east but on the north side of the Thames, the newer professional communities of Docklands have not had a huge impact on the intake at the Royal Docks community school. In every year group of 240 pupils, there are around 15 from the wealthier residents of Gallions' Reach.

"They don't stand out," explains the Royal's head, Pat Bagshaw. "Kids are very streetwise." Their parents, she says, are a transient, middle- class population, who tend not to raise children in the area.

The real boost to the intake comes from immigrant communities moving into Docklands, many placed by Westminster Council's out-of-borough social housing scheme. Urdu and Gujerati are the most common languages after English, but Portuguese (African), Latvian and Ethiopian are also spoken.

The remaining white population are "very East End", says Ms Bagshaw.

Surprisingly, there was hostility to the new school from local people.

Resentment of the London Docklands Development Corporation which helped fund the school? "Resentment of authority of any kind," says Ms Bagshaw.

Teachers at these new schools, with the exception of Cambourne, are not often drawn from the local communities. The many support workers and secretaries are more likely to be local. Transport links are good for teachers coming from all over London to teach in Docklands. As the developments move further down the Thames Gateway, teachers are less likely to commute from town.

The communities are unpredictable. In Thurrock, 16 miles east of Docklands, it is the richest part of town, the newly built Chafford Hundred that is the most multi-racial, but also the most exclusive.


New homes near Cambridge

Place Planned Built Cambourne 700 1200

Abode, New Harlow 2800 82

Gateway scheme 530

Hampton Township Peterborough 5900 1300

Thames Gateway developments

Forty miles long and twenty wide, the Thames Gateway is 80,000 hectares of land running from the Isle of Dogs in east London, 40 miles east to Southend, in Essex, and the Isle of Sheppey, in Kent. Home to around 1.6 million people, the Gateway has the potential for around 120,000 new homes and 180,000 new jobs, according to John Prescott.

Housing near Thurrock Built: 4,327 (1998-2003): planned 5,303 (by 2016) And closer to London Committed for 2007, 18,000; planned 91,000 (by 2016)

* Fancy that The House Building Federation's economic adviser, John Stewart, estimates that, "At current demolition rates in England, new homes built today will have to last 1,400 years before it is their turn to be demolished."

* Did you know? The average value of an acre of land without planning permission: pound;3000; with permission pound;10,000

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