Gas discovery threatens to halt construction of primary school

Progress on the St Peter’s Church of England Primary School in Hawkenbury, which is being built on a former rubbish tip, came to a halt last month just after planning permission for the one-form entry school was approved.

The school is relocating from Windmill Street to the Hawkenbury Farm site on Hawkenbury Road to facilitate the nearby Berkley Homes development.

Villagers pressed KCC for the primary to have a two entry forms of 20 pupils each, but KCC decided to build only enough classroom space for 30 pupils.

The project has also been beset with delays, with Berkley Homes scheduled to transfer ownership of the land for the school on July 31 2018.

However, the title has still not been transferred, and the entire project could be scrapped as contractors have discovered a ‘gas reading’ underground.

KCC are hoping that the discovery was a ‘rogue reading’.

A spokesman said: “We therefore commissioned further investigations to seek to clarify this question as quickly as possible, and the survey results are expected within the next few weeks.

“As a result, the county council has not yet entered into a build contract for the school’s construction.”

 In the initial planning application report, Tunbridge Wells Borough Council confirmed the site was once landfill and highlighted the issues this may cause.

Berkley Homes found no evidence of gas during their surveys, and the latest news has disheartened locals who fear the school may not be ready by its planned opening date of September 2020 and that it might not be built at all.

“Now they will have to retest the site and it could take months before they get the all clear,” claimed Dean Kenward, chairman of the Hawkenbury Village Association.

He continued: “The school will take between 9 and 12 months to build, once they break ground. It may take a further 3 months to appoint a contractor and get them on site.

“If KCC fail to take ownership of the land then the ownership remains with Berkeley Homes and they would be within their rights to apply for further planning permission to build additional houses on the school site.

“The site was ready for handover on July 31 2018 and yet KCC still have not taken over ownership.

“No contractors have yet been appointed to build the school. It has not even reached a point where letters of intent have been issued by KCC to a contractor.”

The land was original sold to Berkley Homes by Tunbridge Wells Borough Council with a significant discount on condition that it would be sold to KCC for the new primary school.

Under local authority rules, Berkley Homes have also contributed £1.5million to build the new primary school.

TWBC, which brokered the deal between KCC and Berkley Homes, the project can still be completed on time.

Park ward councillor, Tracy Moore, said: “It is the county council that must deliver the school but as borough councillor for Park ward I will keep the pressure on my colleagues at county hall to deliver this school for local children.

“The borough council allocated the land for a school and the county are committed to delivering a new primary school on that site.”

She added that she was ‘hopeful’ the school will still be completed in early summer 2020, allowing the building to be operational for the new academic year starting September 2020.


Fraught with difficulties

The Hawkenbury Farm site where the new St Peter’s Church of England Primary School is being planned is a former rubbish tip.

Building on former landfill sites is fraught with difficulties for developers as gas, including methane, carbon dioxide and ammonia produced as rubbish degrades, can remain trapped in pockets under the ground.

Modern land fill sites harvest the gas as a form of energy, but properties constructed on old rubbish tips that were in use decades ago risk this gas leaking inside buildings through cracks in the basement floors and walls.

The gas can causes a range of issues from bad odours, to health effects including cause coughing, irritation of the eyes, nose, and throat, headache, nausea, and breathing difficulties. 

Worse, methane gas is highly explosive and flammable, especially when it escapes and mixes with oxygen, which could result in an explosion.

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