Surrey County Council’s highways department has dealt a major blow to United Learning’s ambitions to lift a cap on pupil numbers at the Royal School in Farnham Lane, Haslemere.

County highways officers have formally objected to United Learning’s application to modify the Section 106 agreement relating to traffic movements at the Royal School’s senior site. 

If approved, the change would eliminate the existing cap of 200 day pupils at the Haslemere school, allowing around 100 pupils to be transferred from the Royal Junior School in Hindhead.

But after assessing the application on safety, capacity and policy grounds, Surrey highways found the proposed increase in vehicle movements, generated by lifting the cap on pupil numbers and the operation of an enhanced minibus service, would “increase the likelihood of conflict between vehicles on Farnham Lane, impacting on non-motorised users”.

This chimes with the fears of residents, who told a recent meeting of the Farnham Bunch Lane Triangle Group that the changes would put pedestrians at risk.

United Learning has said it would require all older students at the school to take minibuses up and down Farnham Lane, while younger students would travel by car.

But Surrey highways’ objection notice questioned the viability of this service, and added United Learning’s application has not demonstrated that traffic management measures would adequately control vehicle movements.

The Herald understands a proposed March 8 debate of the application by Waverley Borough Council’s western planning committee has been postponed in the wake of Surrey highways’ objection.

And Haslemere Town Council’s Lib Dem group has also come out in opposition to the plans this week – despite the town council raising no objection formally.

In a letter to the Herald printed in this week's paper, Councillor Terry Weldon (Lib Dem, Critchmere), said: “When the application came before the Haslemere town council planning committee, our response was that the application could be supported only if the school came up with a viable traffic management plan that was acceptable to a majority of the residents.

“We now know neither of these conditions has been met. In addition, there are objections to the plan from both Natural England, the government’s official advisor on the natural environment in England, and the National Trust.

“For these reasons, Haslemere Liberal Democrats are firmly opposed to the plan.”

It comes after United Learning, the charity that operates the Royal School in Haslemere and Hindhead, hit back at residents objecting to its plans to remove a cap on traffic movements to and from its senior school in Farnham Lane, Haslemere.

Last week, the Herald reported residents’ concerns that additional traffic by parents taking their children to the school would create a “traffic crisis of severe proportions” in Haslemere and Wey Hill, and put pedestrians at risk.

However, United Learning has since issued a fierce rebuttal, saying it “fundamentally disagrees with a number of the points being made by some local residents”.

In a statement, it said “it is entirely wrong to suggest traffic will double on Farnham Lane during peak time”, as claimed by some residents, adding its proposal “would in fact limit traffic on the road”.

It continued: “If the school on its current site reaches its current permitted maximum size – or gets close to that point, as it will in September, due to the sale of the Hindhead site – there is likely to be substantially more traffic on the lane without the limit we have proposed.”

The school’s current Section 106 agreement states: “No more than a total of 350 pupils, of which not more than 200 shall be day pupils, shall attend the Royal School on the land at any one time.”

The current application seeks to vary this to read: “On a daily basis, there shall be no more than a total of:

  • 139 vehicle movements during the peak morning period from 7.45am to 8.45am; and
  • 123 vehicle movements during the peak afternoon period from 4pm to 5pm.”

In a swipe at residents, United Learning’s statement added the Farnham Bunch Lane Triangle Group residents’ association “came into existence to oppose the original plan for the sale of the school site”, but now “oppose a change to the site limit which will actually reduce the maximum permitted amount of traffic on the lane”.

It continued: “The residents admit the only growth in traffic over the past 20 years arises from the 30 per cent growth in homes on the lane, which is due to residents selling large gardens for ‘infill’ housing. 

“When it is for their own profit, increased traffic seems acceptable. 

“Where it is to ensure the continued viability and success of a school, however, any change is suddenly impossible.”

Finally, the statement claims United Learning was enjoying “serious discussions” with the residents’ committee, which “looked to find solutions meeting everyone’s needs”. 

But at the residents’ annual meeting in late January, it is claimed members “mandated their committee to stop talking to us”.

The United Learning statement concluded it is “obviously impossible to find common ground” with its neighbour “refusing to speak”.

“Amidst this, Farnham Lane has a very good highway safety record going back over 20 years,” it said.