Residents say they feel ‘unsafe’ after increasingly heated rows broke out between parents fighting over picking up pupils at the gates of a West Leeds school, writes Democracy Reporter Richard Beecham.
A resident said police were called to ‘scenes of violence’ and neighbours complained they didn’t want to leave their homes because of the chaos when parents use the street as a pick-up and drop-off point for Co-op Academy Priesthorpe pupils.
The Pudsey school has applied for extended opening times for a gate to a ginnel off the road which is used as an alternate entrance for pupils, but councillors raised concerns that longer opening would aggravate the ‘bedlam’.
Claims were made at a Leeds council planning committee that locals have been met with intimidating and abusive behaviour from some of the motorists.
A representative of the school admitted there was a problem with a “hard core” of parents who park inconveniently and drive dangerously on the road, and that the school was doing all it could to try and combat this.
Currently the school has permission to allow one of its gates at a ginnel off Rockwood Road to be open for 30 minutes at either side of the start and end of the school day.
But a retrospective planning application had been submitted by the school to allow it to open the gates until 75 minutes after the end of the school day.
The school said the measure is to help deliver after-school activities and reduce hazards caused by accessing the school’s main entrance from a main road.
But a resident of Rockwood Road told Leeds City Council’s south and west plans panel:
“Over the years residents have been subjected to threatening and violent behaviour from parents of the pupils who attend the school to the point where I personally have seen the police that have been called to scenes of violence that the school cannot control. When groups of parents are fighting among themselves.
“That is what the community that live on that road are subjected to. It’s led to residents feeling quite intimidated to the point where those that are retired don’t leave their homes at school pick up or drop off times – they feel confined within their own homes.
“People don’t want to be caught in the chaos outside their homes.
“I have personally seen people parking outside my home and they are there for two hours with their engines running, so the effect the pollution is having on local residents does need to be addressed.”
Martin Blacoe, the school’s principal, said:
“There is a hard core of parents and a significant number of taxi drivers who at best park inconsiderately, and at worst park and drive dangerously.
“We see it as 20 minutes being the peak period. The traffic is really unpleasant and dangerous, but after that point, it becomes a ghost town.
“I’ve written to parents repeatedly, we’ve handed letters to them about parking there. We put the message out about working sensitively with the community.”
He added that members of school staff also attend Rockwood Road at peak times in an attempt to co-ordinate the activity.
The new proposals asked for permission to open 30 minutes prior to the start of the school day and close 15 minutes after the start; while it would reopen 15 minutes before the end of the school day and close 75 minutes after the school day has ended.
Chair of the committee Coun Caroline Gruen (Lab, Bramley & Stanningley) said she took part in a visit to Rockwood Road just before the school’s closing time. She said:
“Already, the roads were completely lined with idling cars on double yellow lines. I am now told that they had probably been in that position a good hour or even more before then.
“It was unhealthy, irresponsible and illegal to start with.
“Then when the children came out of the ginnel and the cars started picking up people and taking them away, it was absolute mayhem.
“As Coun [Keyleigh] Brooks said, she got nearly run down by a taxi, vehicles were mounting the pavement inches away from students, altercations were happening, the one-way system was not working.
“There was a senior member of [school] staff and, to be frank, although she was working very hard, the impact of her visibility there was virtually negligible.
“I have seen this kind of chaos outside lots of schools in Leeds because we are often called to see it as councillors in our wards. But I have never seen anything quite as extreme as this.
“My initial reaction was that I couldn’t see how opening the ginnel any longer or shorter, as long as it is open and that chaos happens, I don’t think it will make any difference whatsoever.
“Opening and closing the ginnel is a clumsy gesture, and it’s just not going to work.”
Coun Sharon Hamilton (Lab) added: “To the residents, I sympathise with you. In my ward and elsewhere, it is absolute bedlam – parents don’t care. We can’t blame the children, it’s the parents.
“Most of the schools I am talking about, we have two teachers out, enforcement, tickets are issued and it makes not a blind bit of difference – parents do not care. They are just bothered about picking up their child and dropping them off.
“We need more officers out at every school.
“Parents don’t walk, children don’t walk, you would be lucky to see children use the walking route in some schools.
“We hear about the extra opening and closing time, but it make no difference whatsoever – parents will still come to make sure they have a spot.”
She added that the issue should be looked at by the council’s highways department.
The proposals for the gate’s extended opening times for the gates were rejected by the committee.