Chipstead Village


Planning Application for School Development in Coulsdon Lane

A planning application (19/02269/F) for a change of use to a school for children with Special Educational Needs and Disabilities has been submitted for Rowans Hill, Coulsdon Lane, Chipstead from Serenity School, Croydon. For further information on this proposal, a letter from Serenity's Strategic Development Lead, explaining the school's approach and why it considers Chipstead is the right place, has been posted below. Closing date for comments is 16th December. - all comments should be sent to

Residents should be aware that there is an alternative planning application for this site, to build three large private houses.

Dear Chipstead Residents Association Members,

I write with reference to the Proposed Change of Use D1 of Rowans Hill, Coulsdon Lane, Chipstead, to a school for Special Educational Needs and Disabilities (SEND). 

I work for Serenity School as Strategic Development Lead and I am the person with responsibility for the application from start to finish. 

The purpose of this letter is to formally introduce myself and to hopefully form a mutually respectful relationship with the local community and in particular the Chipstead Local Residents Group so that you can be part of this process and hopefully add some additional direction to our proposed small school for children who really need our care, support and love. It would be most helpful if one of you would step forward and be my lead contact, who would kindly speak with the Residents Association and support me with bringing forward concerns and proposed solutions so that all parties feel listened to and supported by the proposed change. Although the application has been submitted, we are happy to discuss the detail and make compromises to satisfy local concerns and we welcome such comments. Please understand that the School had to submit the application by our submission date due to external timeframes imposed by other organisations such as the Department for Education as part of their framework for setting up new schools.

As the old proverb says, “it takes a village to raise a child, therefore it takes a community to raise a school”. Serenity School is reaching out to the hearts of Chipstead Village residents to get involved and help make our school a reality for children born less fortunate than us. At school our mantra is “Every child needs a champion in their lives” and our staff team provide this daily. Our pupils who have Autism and related barriers to learning, independence and self-worth require an environment whereby they can begin to shine in a safe and caring place. We believe Chipstead Village is ideal for our nurturing and therapeutic practices. We also believe that with community cohesion and engagement our pupils can gain worthwhile experiences from local people like you, when joining in with initiatives, projects and activities. We can only think that an outstanding school for special needs children in the area would add further value and character to what is an already outstanding village setting. The school of course would also offer employment opportunities to the wider area for those seeking careers in education, therapy and counselling, as well as other administration and support roles. Local people starting with us from the beginning of the school’s legacy is something that should be embraced by all.

We believe that the answer to real education and overall school effectiveness in the 21st Century is strong, authentic community connections and actions. When children and their families, community groups, business and the school band together to support learning and childhood development, young people achieve more in school, stay in school longer and enjoy the experience more. Therefore, we are expanding our offer and curriculum from 11 – 16 boys only to an all-through curriculum from Key Stage 2 to Key Stage 5 inclusive of boy and girls. The Primary School up to Year 8 at Croydon and the Secondary School at Rowans Hill. This means we have more time to help, support and guide children so that their special needs and disabilities is well planned for and that at the age of 18 years old, they can leave us independently and make their own footprint in society. This is hugely important not just for us at school but for everyone in our community and indeed society because historically children with special needs without the correct support fall into deepening mental health, isolation and with it a larger strain on the public purse. Working together cohesively we can in our own small way help a limited number of children progress positively into adulthood, inclusively with independence and self-worth.

It is extremely important to point out at this stage that if we felt that our proposal for a small special needs school would be a burden or ruin the feel, character or living conditions of any resident in the area we would simply not progress with the application. We feel that by helping residents understand what we do, and by offering to explain in detail how our school model works (which I must stress is very different to how mainstream schools operate) then this will significantly ease any anxiety from the neighbours and the Community, and in doing so hopefully gain your support. 

Pre-Application Meeting Stage: 
A Pre-Application meeting was held on Wednesday 16th of October and the Advice and Guidance Letter is attached  for your convenience on the Application Portal. From the Senior Planning Officer’s advice and after her proposed considerations in the letter, the school would be welcomed in the context of several different matters in due respect to the following;

Planning Policy

Impact upon Green Belt:

NPPF para 146 concludes that “material changes in the use of land (such as changes of use for outdoor sport or recreation, or for cemeteries and burial grounds); are not inappropriate providing they preserve its openness and do not conflict with the purposes of including land within it."

On this basis, the proposed change of use of the existing building would not comprise inappropriate development, the scheme preserving the openness of the site and not appearing to conflict with the purposes of including land within the Green Belt. The proposed change of use could therefore be compatible with Green Belt policy.

Principle of Change of Use:

There are no specific ‘in principle’ policies within the Development Plan which would appear to make this change of use unacceptable,

Planning Policy that has been reviewed and assessed by senior planners to demonstrate the scheme can go ahead are as follows;

National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) Reigate and Banstead Core Strategy

  • CS1 (Presumption in favour of Sustainable Development)

  • CS2 (Valued Landscapes and Natural Environment),

  • CS3  (Green Belt)

  • CS8  (Area 1 North Downs)

  • CS10 (Sustainable Development)

  • CS12 (Infrastructure Delivery)

  • CS17 (Travel Options and accessibility)

    Reigate and Banstead Local Plan Development Management Plan (2019)       

  • DES1(Design of new development)

  • DES9(Pollution and contaminated land)

  • INF2(Community Facilities)

  • TAP1(Access parking and servicing)

  • NHE1(Landscape Protection)

  • NHE2(Protecting and enhancing biodiversity and area of geological importance)

  • NHE3(Protecting trees, woodland areas and natural habitats)

  • NHE5(Development within the Green Belt)

    National Planning Practice Guidance Supplementary Planning Guidance:

  • A Parking Strategy for Surrey

  • Parking Standards for Development

  • Human Rights Act 1998

  • Surrey Design Guide


  • Human Rights Act 1998

  • Community Infrastructure Levy

Regulations 2010

We realise that the Change of Use to D1 has potential for several impacts which would need to be satisfactorily addressed in order to comply with the Development Plan and satisfy the local community. The remaining parts of this letter will hopefully help all stakeholders to understand how Serenity School operates and functions daily, and unlike most state schools such as mainstream schools we are uniquely different in vision, aim, approach and appeal. I hope the following information will encourage the local community to support this application and to embrace the good work we do with young people educated in the Coulsdon area.

Contextual Information to help understanding at this stage;

Please visit our website for all policies and Statement of Purpose at 

Serenity School is an Independent Special School for children with Autism and related special educational needs and disabilities. We hold an Ofsted 2019 Good Provider Rating (May 2019).

We serve to support young people and families with learning disabilities in a small nurturing environment, bespoke to their needs, so that they can begin to make progress. Our school has a range of teachers, therapeutic and clinical specialist as well as other support staff.

We aim to purchase Rowans Hill because of its unique setting, nurturing potential and because of the overall safeguarded environment and proximity to transport links including the motorway. This would therefore ensure that Rowans Hill, a unique period property with outstanding rural appeal remains in the local area and adds to the village feel. 

By developing our school offer to create an All Through SEND Curriculum for pupils from age 7 to 18 yrs. old, across two sites (Croydon to be the primary school) we are doing our part to support the London Plan for more Schools. For your information the South East as an area has the highest population of young people in the United Kingdom with SEND, whilst there is not enough schools or alternative settings to place these young people. Therefore, thousands of children with SEND are not receiving a good standard of education and some are just at home not making any progress with their education or therapeutic needs at all, and this is simply unacceptable. Our School is an organisation built on humanistic values having invested therefore in therapists and life coaches as well as quality teachers to support children with autism and related disabilities so that they ‘access education’ and a high-quality curriculum offer. 

 Site Context:

We aim to bring the house, out buildings and gardens all back to a quality standard that will add to the presentation of Coulsdon Lane. There will be no structural change to any of the buildings nor will the outside gardens be altered in any way.

We aim to use the entire property space and have potential to ensure the fields to the rear are reserved as fields for future years as part of the greenbelt. We plan to develop a forest school curriculum which will include growing vegetables, ponies on site and other small animals that work well with SEND children and develop independence and self-worth. We would take full responsibility for the outside of the building to ensure that all hedges and landscaping is clear, tidy, safe and adhering to highways. This will ensure free flowing traffic on the lane.

School Context: (A brief summary)

Pupils on Roll:

50 pupils when at capacity 

Autism specialist school


11 - 18 yrs. 

Following the national curriculum via a local curriculum based on SEND

6 pupils per class so that their bespoke needs are meet

There is potential for a total of up to 16 learning and sensory spaces (Drawings will be available for discussion at the Residents meeting in due course) 

There will be no structural change to the main building or outside building

The School opening times:

First staff (Headteacher and Site Manager) will be on site from 08.00

Staff arrive from 08.30 via shuttle bus service provided by the school each day, to and from school at designated pick up points. (A Comprehensive Travel Plan will also be available for discussion at the Residents Meeting and will form part of the Application).

Lessons start at 09.30 and pupils are off site by 14.00 each day

Staff will be on site from 08.30 - 16.00

School calendar is 36 school weeks

Break time is 15 minutes in the morning at 10.30 - mostly spent in the school restaurant as healthy snack is offered

Lunch is 30 minutes from 12.30. Please note that at any given time due to the types of SEND our pupils have, we would envisage possibly 10 - 15 pupils maximum outside at break and lunch. Considering the proposed playground would be the rear lawn which is some 150 metres to the rear of the front gates, noise would not be an issue. In addition, the house and 15-foot surrounding walls would also add to block out youthful high spirits during play.  Autistic children tend to form close relationships with key workers at school and spend their free time with them participating in lunch time clubs, games etc. inside the building. We also have a planned games room with IT and other forms of play to entertain pupils during their breaks led by staff. In addition, 15 minutes of lunch involves sitting in tutor groups and having a sit-down meal. This forms part of a structured social skills session and supports therapeutic work.


Ratio of 1 staff to 3 pupils averaged

1 Front of house/administration

1 Site agent 

1 therapist 

Approx. 15 staff in total required for 50 pupils at capacity. 

It will take approx. 2 years to fill the school and pupils must be phased in slowly to support education and therapeutic plans. 


The site lies outside the identified built confines of the area with an identified accessibility rating of 2, which is a low rating.

Travel Plan:

A total of 4 vehicles ONLY will be used and on site each day when the school is at capacity. Two vehicles will be used to begin with based on the 25 pupils who will transfer over with their teachers from our Croydon school site. We successfully currently operate a similar travel plan in Croydon. Except for two staff who drive company vehicles at Croydon and operate the shuttle service, all staff travel to school via our shuttle pick up or public transport. 

The 4 vehicles to be used at capacity at Rowans Hill will be; two cars for senior leaders and two 15-seater minibuses to shuttle pupils and staff in and out from Coulsdon or East Croydon Train Station. Stations for pick up at this site to be confirmed based on staff need. Minibuses will be parked inside the main entrance of the school behind the 15-foot walls to preserve the character of the area and respect views.

There is ample parking space at the main front entrance which will be used for all company vehicles and disabled badge holders (possibility of 6 bays). In addition, there is an additional entrance at the front for a proposed second car park area for visitors that ensures compliance on allocated parking for a school and for taxi drops and pick up. This will ensure no traffic issues on the road at any time of the day. The design of this car park can be decided with residents to fit with local features. It would be suggested to use PVC grass tiles so that grass could be used in the car park, growing back each holiday period and never looking like a tarmac school car park.

Shuttle service which will be available for staff and those students who do not have access to SEN Transport. Staff collection times to work from East Croydon & Coulsdon Station will be 07.50 and 08.15 & 16.00 return. We are fully committed to this arrangement which is similar to what we do currently at Croydon and which staff find convenient, cost effective and environmentally friendly. Pupil collection times will be 08.45 and 09.10 and returned at 14.00.

The expectation from within SEN Transport Department at the LAs is that pupils can be put in a taxi for the first 6 months - 1yr and then they must be travel trained for independence. This is part of their Educational Health Care Plan targets. Our plan is that the pupils travel in part by public transport to the designated pupil pick up point for the school shuttle service.  We envisage approx. 20 pupils coming in via cab service when at capacity (50 pupils). The borough will of course populate cabs with more than one pupil to save on costs. Therefore an approx. number of cabs per day when at capacity could be in the region of no more than 6 cars each way. 

As already mentioned, the site has ample opportunity for cabs to enter the school grounds and drop off safely and free from the outside road. Therefore, there will be no disruption to oncoming traffic or flow of traffic in the area. 

The total vehicle/ traffic flow each day as a consistent number for 36 weeks per year would be 10 cars, broken down into 4 School vehicles and 6 taxi cars. We believe that when compared to the proposed use of three new family homes with vehicles, the traffic flow for three families is considerably more since an average family occupying a home of this size would have 3 - 4 cars which would be in constant use from early morning school/work runs through to weekend and late hour comings and goings for 52 weeks of the year. In addition, the potential noise from 3 families in operation would also be considerably more. 

Due to the size of the school, deliveries are not frequent. For example, food deliveries will arrive once per week from ASDA. Once per month we receive curriculum resources and office supplies.

On occasion other visitors will need to attend school such as social workers, Education Psychologists and guest speakers. Parking bays will be available within the grounds to accommodate on the proposed car park to the front right of the site. 

There will also be a bike rack on site for staff and pupils who choose to cycle to school/work.


The building is well positioned and facing away from the main road or that of neighbouring homes to have any noise travel outwards.

The House has limited frontal rooms and therefore all learning will take place at the rear of the house and there is ample floor space to ensure this happens. Furthermore, out buildings which will form part of proposed classroom space will also limit noise travelling beyond the property line as it is again blocked by the main house and high stone walls. Additional learning spaces will be designed in the forest area behind the lawns at the rear and we aim to develop an area for forest school, science, horticulture and animal care as well as reading circles and therapy huts. The distance from the road to the rear of the house is approx. 75 metres, to the middle of the lawn and proposed classrooms/current garages is 100 - 150 metres away and to the forest area some 200 metres from the main gate. Neighbours are further away again. With the protection from noise waves offered from the grand house and the substantial high stone walls surrounding the property, noise will not travel to cause any harm to the lives of people living locally. The privacy and safeguarding potential offered from the site layout and high stone walls is certainly an appeal for us as a school, as well as an advantage to limit any travel of noise which helps answer questions from residents.

Our curriculum offer does not include music, nor do we plan to have PE on site. All our PE and Sports Leaders programmes are offered via Service Level agreements with local Sports Centres and other such providers so that we can avail of the very best facilities and coaches to support learners achieve course outcomes. 

As we are a small school there is no need for industrial extraction fans for catering nor will we ever plan to put them in place. 

As most classrooms are planned for the rear end of the school there is no need for air conditioning either. Rooms that face the front/roadside of the building will be allocated to offices. Therefore, during summer months when the need may arise to open a window, any low-level noise from classrooms will travel towards the greenbelt area to the rear of the property and be absorbed naturally. Please note that in our specialist classrooms there is a maximum of 6 pupils present with 2- 3 adults in supports. Noise must not be compared to what can be evidenced in a mainstream classroom with 30+ pupils. 

If we respect each other and acknowledge our unique contribution, we can move forward quickly in a positive environment where we can all be teachers and learners. The beneficiaries of this collaboration will be the children with special educational needs and disabilities who rightfully need our help and support.

I hope this brief overview helps explain our proposed plans, how we aim to respect and value the local community, and I look forward to hearing from you this week if possible, please.

Thank you,

Gareth McCullough

Serenity School

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