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Judd-gate: How the rise in grammar places is tearing a community apart

by Andy Tong

Judd-gate: How the rise in grammar places is tearing a community apart

THE decision to make local grammars take in more pupils has caused a bitter dispute between The Judd School and its neighbours.

Judd is one of five schools who will have to take in extra students – the other four are in Tunbridge Wells – and will create 30 additional places from September, taking their annual intake up to 180.

So the school has decided to create a new exit for its pupils at the back of the site, leading on to Mabledon Road – and the residents there are ‘up in arms’ at the prospect.

The Headmaster of the Brook Street school, Jon Wood, told the Times: “The Judd School is growing to accommodate a sixth form of entry in Year 7 on a permanent basis to help meet the demand for grammar places in the local area and further afield.

“This follows a similar move [also 30 places] five years ago, from four to five forms. As such, pedestrian traffic along Brook Street has increased 50 per cent over this period – and including the next few years.”

But Mabledon Road’s 60 households are worried the move will ruin the tranquility of their idyllic, tree-lined street.

The road is narrow and terminates in a dead end, and there is only single-lane access for vehicles because of parking on both sides.

Residents claim they have been told by the school that up to 80 per cent of its 1,300 capacity will use the new gate to make their journey home.

“It’s a quiet street, it’s just not built for this,” said Mark King, whose property is adjacent to the school boundary where the gate is scheduled to be built.

“There will be 800 or 900 kids walking down here, so there will be congestion, loss of privacy, noise, litter.”

Judd insists the gate will only be used at the end of the school day, it will be operated by a member of staff with a key code, and that parents will be told not to use the surrounding network of roads to pick up their children.

“Our kids play in the street,” adds Mr King. “There’s no turning circle at the top. But you know parents will try to come up here, even though they have been told not to.”

“The pavement on Brook Street is three times wider than here, it’s designed to keep the students safe. But there’s nothing here to keep them safe, let alone our kiddies.”

Other local people have contacted the school about the number of pupils on Brook Street. Mr Wood explained: “We do get complaints from members of the public already, and have for some time, over the sheer volume of students exiting the school at 3.45pm and the impact this has on other pedestrians, particularly if travelling in the opposite direction.

 “Whilst we do everything we can to educate the teenage boys to respect other path users, they may at times inadvertently occupy the entire breadth of the path and, without realising, cause inconvenience to others.

“It is exactly this we are trying to alleviate by seeking to provide an alternative exit path. If we can divert some of that traffic from the front of the school to the proposed exit through Mabledon Road and on to the station, we can improve the experience for other town users.”

But the increase in footfall north of Judd is complicated by the presence of other schools nearby, notably Sussex Road Primary and Hayesbrook, whose pupils also use the network of streets.

Another Mabledon Road resident, Jay Attwood, said: “The people moved into Brook Street knowing they were buying a house next to a school. We bought here because we knew it was quiet.”

But he added that at the start and end of the school day the area was already inundated with children and parents.

“We already get about 70 per cent of Sussex Road mums picking up their children – and there’s more than 400 pupils there.

“You can’t get out of this road at 9am or 3.30pm as it is. Sussex Road is always blocked, there’s a parade of cars causing gridlock.”

Mr Wood dismissed the fears of congestion, saying: “Traffic from Sussex Road and Hayesbrook would not clash as they have very different end of school times. We would not anticipate vehicular traffic increasing. 

“Access to these streets by car is always awkward – and certainly to Mabledon Road itself would be counterproductive, being narrow.”

Paul Smith, who recently moved down from London and has a baby boy, said: “Aside from all the emotion, it’s about the practicalities – and keeping communities safe.

“There’s one road in and out of here, Douglas Road. But as soon as you start offering alternative routes to parents, they will use them.”

He has asked Highways England to conduct an inspection of the width of the road and pavement and examine access for emergency services.

In addition to the traffic, however, there are also serious concerns about the same problems experienced by Brook Street pedestrians. 

Mr Attwood is worried about the safety of his two daughters, aged 12 and 15, who walk home from the girls’ schools around Pembury Road.

“My daughters come against the flow and they get barged out of the way by the boys from Hayesbrook who come down the alleyway.”

And it’s not only other children who are at risk, he says: “A lot of older people live here, with health issues and physical disabilities. They might not want to go out.”

Mr Wood said: “I understand that residents would prefer not to have any students walking past their houses, but I do feel the management of traffic in the town overall would be greatly improved by this proposal.

“Our students are well behaved,” he stressed. “I do not anticipate the impact on local residents to be great, and it is for a very short period of time each day.”

PICTURE: END OF THE ROAD: Mabledon Road residents gather to express their disapproval PHOTO: Craig Matthews