Mega-nursery approved amid dramatic planning meeting

Charles Harrison (26 November, 2021)

Key discussion points included the noise generated by the nursery and whether there was any need for it

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A new mega-nursery was approved to be built in East Dulwich Grove last week in a fiery planning meeting.

Despite receiving over 139 objections to the proposal and only 14 letters in support, Southwark Council’s planning committee unanimously approved the 195-capacity nursery development in the meeting on Tuesday, November 16.

The meeting saw residents voice their concerns about damage to the local area in terms of noise pollution and increased traffic, as well as lamenting the loss of the East Dulwich Constitutional Club, a function space which the nursery will take over.

The space dates back to the 1880s and has been used variously as a first aid depot during the Second World War, and as an events and function space.

There was some dispute over how much the space was actually used by the community, however, and nursery company responsible N Family Club argued that the new nursery would bring jobs to the area, as well as affordable childcare.

The council’s development team also stated that the changes to the building would largely be on the interior, with the exterior actually intruding less onto the street as a result of the development. They argued that the overall visual appearance of the building would remain in keeping with the road’s aesthetic.

Computer rendition of the new main hall

Planning consultant Ian Coomber spoke at the meeting, representing EDG nursery, a small independent nursery located directly next to the now-approved mega-nursery.

“This is a mega nursery proposal. Your childcare sufficiency statement shows that you have ample childcare provision within the borough”, he argued.

East Dulwich nursery says plans for large rival next door threaten small providers

“There are 43 other nurseries within three miles of the site, and no existing demand. The need for the application seems questionable.

“There is not a burning need for additional childcare in the borough.”

A councillor responded to his argument, however, by asking why N Family Club would choose to invest in the nursery if there was no demand for it. She added that the planing committee was not responsible for assessing business interests, but the impact of planning applications to the community.

He responded by saying that he was simply using the council’s own statistics.

Another councillor highlighted his connection to EDG Nursery, a rival business. Coomber insisted, however, that the independent nursery’s objection to the mega-nursery was out of concern for the community and for the street, rather than purely financial.

EDG Nursery protesting the development

Much of the debate came down to disagreements over the impact nurseries can have on the surrounding environment. One such concern raised was the level of noise created by the development, with residents arguing that such a high number of children in the garden will cause disturbances to the local area – especially with so many people now working from home.

This included resident Diana, citing the residents’ own noise study which found that the noise created by children outside would be 66 decibels on average – a number they argued was “unacceptable.”

Claims that noise would be a problem were disputed by the developers, who argued that while there might be some “low-level” noise from children, it would be “minimal” thanks to acoustic fencing that would surround the development.

The residents present questioned what acoustic fencing was, and were assured that it did help to reduce noise.

The planning committee itself was more swayed by this point, however – despite one council member stating that he actually “quite enjoys” the sound of children playing – and this discussion led to one of the conditions of the planning approval being that the business will not operate on weekends.

Another key point of debate surrounded the availability of car parking spaces and traffic during peak times.

Ian Coomber said: “There’s no assessment, particularly of the impact of child pick up and drop off times.

“This nursery will equate to 1 child every 20 seconds.”

The committee, however, said they believed that people would be inclined to walk their children to nursery, as it fell within the Ultra Low Emission Zone and so fewer residents were driving as a regular means of transport. They added that the site was within a Controlled Parking Zone, which would ease the flow of traffic.

Mr. Coomber responded, however, by admitting that while it was a lovely idea, “the practical reality is that, if it’s a rainy day, many people will want to drive.”

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