Rob Rigby remembers as a kid going down to the edge of the East Lancs Road with sugar butties and a bottle of water to count the few cars going past, and write down their registration numbers with his pencil. That was around the time when Moorside High School was built facing the A580. The cars, the fumes, the pollution just wasn't an issue then. Now, apart from the M60 motorway, the East Lancs has the highest levels of nitrogen dioxide in the city. Rob just shakes his head in disbelief at the very thought of putting two schools anywhere near the road.
"There's a Lancet report stating that children between the ages of 9 and 18 are most susceptible to lung damage from traffic fumes than at any time of their lives" he explains "With Salford having one of the highest incidents of childhood asthma and bronchitis this is the last place you'd think they would put a school, never mind two schools."
Moorside High, built when Rob was eating his sugar butties, is merging with Swinton High on a new site next to the East Lancs, while Walkden High is being re-built on a field, also next to the East Lancs, with an existing huge mobile phone mast at the side, just for good measure. The idea of putting two new schools on the edge of the A580 appealed to Salford Council, Rob argues, so that drivers could see these new `beacons' of how great education is IN Salford, but now planners are coming up with bonkers plans to try and allay parents fears.
"They originally wanted to put Walkden school as close to the East Lancs as possible but when they had the outline planning meeting last year they admitted that the air quality wasn't good, and said they'd move it 50 metres away and install a ventilation system to bring in clean air from the other side of the field" Rob recalls "In my opinion they are just paying lip service to children's health and moving the school from a pretty safe place to one with a lot more danger."
Rob, along with virtually the whole community around the new Walkden High school site, has been campaigning against the development for over 12 months. Obviously the open-all-hours three storey school, with its 1500 pupils and multitude of sports pitches and car parks, is going to have a massive negative impact on the estate but unlike many similar protests this one is putting the school kids' safety at the forefront.
Residents on Old Clough Lane, which leads directly onto the East Lancs, are horrified that planning permission is about to be sought to put the main entrance to the school on this ridiculously busy road.
"Only last night there was a cyclist knocked down and I was holding his head until the ambulance got here" says Ian Hambridge "This was the eighth accident here in two years. We think someone will be seriously injured or killed."
Across the road from where Ian lives the iron bollards have all got huge dents in them where speeding cars have swerved off the winding road, and even on this Sunday morning traffic is unceasing as drivers use the `lane' as a cut through to the A580.
"It's not the school we're objecting to, it's the site" says Tony Carroll, whose young family have either been through or are going to Walkden High "There's a huge field on the back of the existing school which is big enough to house the re-build. They said they can't build there because of disruption to the pupils, which is absolute nonsense. There's also the old Wardley campus site which they said was `unsuitable' 12 months ago but is now suddenly `suitable' for the proposed St George's merger.
"They're always harping on about the environment and green space and this is Green Space but as soon as they want to build on it they go deaf" he adds "The whole thing is ridiculous and not feasible, and they said themselves that this was their least preferred site. But they're still planning to do it."
The original outline plans for the new school attracted 47 objections to the loss of green space, 58 objections to the increase in traffic, 50 objections to potential noise pollution, 53 objections to the proposed access road, 43 objections to the disruption it will cause, and, tellingly, 40 objections to the lack of public consultation. Residents aren't just horrified by the plans. They're also horrified with the way they have been treated by Salford Council…
"We went to the outline planning meeting last year and asked the councillors to do a site visit but they voted against it" recalls Old Clough Lane resident, Derek Cross "I was disgusted with them. These are our elected representatives and they can't be bothered to get off their backsides. If they did they would see how unsuitable this site is for a school."
Rob Rigby argues that the lack of public consultation has become a major issue.
"There just hasn't been any consultation for the residents" he says "Parents of prospective pupils at feeder schools have had brochures and sheets of information but they weren't given to the residents who have to live with this for the rest of our lives. After the planning meeting last year we were told we'd be kept in the loop. We haven't been. And the only contact we've had is when we've initiated it."
Then, recently, a letter arrived saying that planning permission is being sought for the entrance on Old Clough Lane. It added that there will be a `further consultation' in the autumn', although "the final plans will be the responsibility of the private sector partner currently being selected".
Right at the beginning of the campaign, Rob tried to get advice and help from local MP, Barbara Keeley…
"She won't speak to me, she won't see me" he says "I wrote to her and she e-mailed me saying it was a matter entirely for local government, although she would be happy to write to the Council and underline our concerns. She said she would send us a copy of her letter. That was in February 2007. I've heard nothing since."
Walkden High is the City's first new build school in Salford Council's Building Schools for the Future programme..."They have this thing that everything has to be grandiose" says Rob "It's got to be a `beacon' for Salford's education."
These residents and the health of our children, it appears, are just in the way…
"The assessment found that the southern area of the Playing Fields Site adjacent to the busy A580 East Lancs Road is within a designated Air Quality Management Area (AQMA) for Nitrogen Dioxide and given the existing high levels of traffic…the need for adequate ventilation is stressed to adequately mitigate the impact of air pollution on end users."
Extract from outline planning papers
"It is the Government's firm view that the planning system is not the place for determining health safeguards"
Extract from outline planning papers