The following address was made to Hertfordshire County Council’s Development Control committee on Wednesday 22nd March 2017 by Bengeo Primary School’s Chair of Govenors, Libby Mountford.
I have been Bengeo resident for 47 years, a Hertfordshire teacher for 25 years, and a Governor of Bengeo Primary School for 12. I speak for the school in opposition to this plan which puts at risk the health and safety of more than 500 children and their families, and around 70 staff.
There are two main risks – from increased traffic, and from dangerous dust in the air.
The first risk – Traffic
Bengeo School is situated at the northern edge of the town, where the countryside begins. The Wadesmill Road, the B158, extends beyond the school, leading up to the A602 and the A10. We know that up to 88 of our children and 31 members of staff currently travel to school along the B158 from villages to the north, or from the east of Hertford. Parents choose to use the A10/B158 to avoid the congested town centre.
The Wadesmill Road appears to be both fast and safe. In fact, it is a narrow, busy, dangerous road. Drivers drive too fast along it, causing several accidents in recent years, including two fatalities. One person killed was a family member of a present pupil.
If you allow the addition of 100 lorry movements a day, most of them occurring during the morning rush hour, you have a recipe for more serious accidents. Some of these accidents could well involve the families of Bengeo School children.
Risk 2 – Dust
David Adam has explained that it is difficult to quantify, exactly, the amount of dust that will be generated by the quarry and the precise extent of the risk to health. However, there is undisputed and increasing evidence of the danger of silicate dust particles to human health and an acceptance that quarrying should not take place close to “sensitive sites”. It is also accepted that inhaling small dust particles is particularly dangerous for the very young and for those whose breathing is already compromised. Bengeo School has, currently, on the roll, 35 children who have asthma and who need to use inhalers.
As Dr Francis Gilchrist, a consultant respiratory paediatrician said recently “If you damage your lungs in childhood you are likely to see these effects right through your adulthood, so there is a lifelong impact.”
Children at the school and playgroup range in age from 2 – 11. Outdoor play, in the fresh air, is vital for the happiness and development of the very young pupils. But all the children at the school run about outside, breathing in deeply, during playtimes, during PE and when taking part in sports.
It has been suggested that dust monitors could be erected around the site to constantly check dust levels and to allow operators (and, presumably, to inform the Head?), to know that dust in the atmosphere has reached dangerous levels.
What should our Headteacher do to protect the children, if she hears that dust levels are high – cancel playtime, bring the little ones indoors, stop PE lessons and school sports matches? This would be an unpredictable and totally unacceptable limitation to the curriculum.
Hertfordshire is a particularly strong LEA, one of the best in the country, which has 93% Good and Outstanding schools. We are sure that you Herts councillors will not allow a Hertfordshire Headteacher to be put in such a situation.
Put it another way. If this huge quarry was already in existence and working, would you agree to a large primary school being built less than half a kilometre away from it?
Finally, Bengeo residents are very concerned about the idea of having a huge quarry so close to the school. We have already been told that some parents, if it goes ahead, will not choose Bengeo. Parents of pupils who have asthma have said that they will move them elsewhere.
We believe that numbers on roll will fall, that the school will suffer a financial loss and that the Council will have to find alternative school places. All will suffer – and why? To dig up a beautiful and much loved stretch of countryside for sand and gravel for which we have no need. Please, don’t let this happen.