Pinner Wood School Closure – Local Residents’ Meeting 28th March 2017

Notes written by R. Boff, The Pinner Association.

These notes are not approved minutes of this meeting and should not be used a true record for any purpose.

Harrow Council have held a public meeting, primarily for residents’ local to Pinner Wood School, to inform them why the school had had to be closed so suddenly on the 23rd March, what was to be done over the next few months, and what may be the long-term outcome for the school site.  700 letters inviting residents to attend the meeting at West Lodge School had been distributed to the residents local to the school site, and a further 4,000 letters had informed residents of the school closure.

After a void appeared in the school’s staff car park in the summer of 2015, Harrow Council employed specialist geotechnical and structural engineers to undertake a thorough survey of the ground beneath the school site near to the location of the void.  These 360 degree rotary three dimensional laser surveys, undertaken by drilling many small boreholes, revealed that over 20 metres beneath part of the school building there are tunnels from old chalk mines.  The laser surveys were unable to find the total lengths of these tunnels, as they were longer than the range of the equipment.  Additionally, the laser surveys revealed that these tunnels were beginning to degrade.

The professional advice to the Council was that the roofs of the tunnels may continue to collapse, causing instability in the ground above, which may, in the worst case, cause more voids to appear, some of which may be under the school buildings.  As this could put the pupils and staff of the school at risk the decision to close the school immediately was made by senior Council Officers and Councillors.  Having the site clear of children and staff would also mean that the necessary additional surveys to establish the extent of the old mines could be undertaken more quickly.

The closure of the school was announced on March 23rd.  For the last week of the Spring Term to Y6 Pinner Wood School classes were accommodated at Whitefriars School.  After the Easter school holiday the KS2 classes will be accommodated at Whitefriars School, KS1 classes will be accommodated at the St Jerome C of E School, both of these being in the Wealdstone area. The Pinner Wood School pupils would remain in their existing class groups and be taught by the Pinner Wood School staff, to keep the integrity of the school intact.   Coach travel to and from school was to be organised for all the pupils, but as yet safe and convenient pick up and drop off venues had not been identified.  The Pinner Wood Nursery would relocate to the Pinner Hill Community Hall, Pinner Hill Road, near to the school site.   Over the Easter holidays the school staff and Council would remove equipment and furniture from the school.

The experts present at the meeting could not give an estimate of how long the school may need to be shut, as that would depend on what the further survey work revealed.  The best case would be for the old mine tunnels to be limited in extent and suitable for stabilisation by filling in with concrete, in which case the school could reopen relatively quickly, possibly within 6 to 12 months.  However, if the ground could not be stabilised the current school building may need to be demolished and a new school built on a different part of the current site, if possible, or even on a different site in the Pinner area.  This would mean a long term relocation of the school would be necessary while such construction took place.

Local residents were able to question the Chief Executive of Harrow Council, Michael Lockwood, and the professional experts present on matter of concern:

Q:  Would the vacant school site be secured?

A:  This was being arranged, with a commercial security firm already employed to ensure the security of the site.

Q:  Would financial assistance be available from central Government?

A:  Harrow Council were applying for special funds from various Government departments, and were taking advice from other Local Authorities which had had similar problems.  Harrow Council had money in place for the current surveys, but any remedial works may be very expensive.

Q:  What was to happen to the groups that usually used the Pinner Hill Community Hall while this was taken over by the Pinner Wood School Nursery?  A weekly Bingo Club, a Toddlers’ group and a Youth Group all regularly used the Community Hall.

A:  Other venues would be sought for these community groups.

(Since the meeting Pinner Cricket Club have kindly offered their premises for the weekly Pinner Hill Community Tenants’ & Residents’ Association (PHT&RA) Bingo which is held every Wednesday afternoon.  Debbie Steers, Chair of the Pinner Hill Community Tenants’ & Residents’ Association (PHT&RA), said:

“This is wonderful news!  And our thanks go to the Pinner Cricket Club.  We are currently working with Harrow Council to find a temporary home for the PHT&RA Toddlers’ Club and Youth Club, including the equipment.  We have been offered Marsh Road Community Hall but unfortunately this is not big enough to accommodate the clubs and their equipment.”

If anyone knows of a large hall in the area that PHT&RA could use for these clubs and store their equipment, please email the Pinner Association on [email protected] )

Q:  Residents were aware that there are old mines in the area, but has the Council any information about the location of all these mines?

A:   The council has maps of the known mines in the area, but there may be other unknown mines yet to be discovered;  the “unknown unknown” nature of the information was one of the problems being faced on the school site.

Q:  Do the tunnels found so far extend off the school site?  Might they run under private property?

A:  Until further survey work was done it was not known the extent of the tunnels that have been found, but there was no evidence as yet that they did extend further than the school site.  If the tunnels ran under the adjacent public highway it would again be the responsibility of the Council to ensure the stability of the road, but the Council were not responsible for any privately owned land.  However, they would inform any residents whose property may be affected.

Q:  Could the Council create a portal on the Council website as a central point for all information about the Pinner Wood School site and could this be kept updated with all new information discovered as a result of the on-going surveys?

A:  Michael Lockwood thought it would be a very good idea to put all the information in one place accessible for the residents and this would be done as soon as possible.

Q:  Would the findings at the school site affect planning policy in the area?

A:  At present there would be no change in planning policy in the area, and all planning applications would be decided using the usual criteria.

Q:  Are there any more chalk mines in the area?

A:  This is not known.  The Council were consulting Ken Kirkman, the author of a definitive book on the chalk mines of Pinner (present at the meeting), and use his expert knowledge.

Q:  What would happen to the site if it could not be used for a school building in future?

A:  Technically the site can be made safe, but it may not be suitable for school building.  The Council would ensure that the site was put into a safe condition.

Q: How extensive could the found tunnel be; could they connect with the known mine entrance in Norman Crescent?

A:  Unlikely, as generally this type of tunnel was a maximum of 100 metres long.  The mines were often “family mines” and were small scale; this may be why there is no record of these tunnels on the deeds of the land of the school site, nor were any “abandonment plans” registered for these workings.

Q:  Are the tunnels flooded?

A:  This is unlikely, as generally these mines were dug above the water table.  Any water in the tunnels would be seasonable runoff.

Q:  The houses in Latimer Gardens are some 80 years old, and the school was built in 1939.  There have been very few instances of settlement in the houses in the area and should it be assumed that the ground is basically stable?

A:  Agreed.

Q:   When would more information be available for the residents?

A:  In three or four months the surveys should have revealed more information on the extent of the mines.  Residents should wait for that information before considering taking any action with respect to their own properties.