Vitriol over ‘noisy’ Leighton nursery ‘has been astounding’ says planning chairman

Footsteps Nursery, Leighton Buzzard... Photo:Google
Footsteps Nursery, Leighton Buzzard... Photo:Google

A Leighton Buzzard nursery under fire for its “noisy children” has been granted permission to extend its opening hours and use its garden more.

Footsteps Nursery in Albany Road can now run from 7.30am to 6.30pm Monday to Friday – a half hour extension at both the start and end of the day – to allow more flexibility for parents.

And the nursery has also successfully had another planning condition removed which had restricted the use of its garden area to 10.30am-11.30am and 2.15pm-3.15pm for no more than 10 children at a time.

The changes were sanctioned by Central Beds Council’s development management committee on Wednesday by a 10-0 vote with one abstention.

The alterations had drawn 27 letters of objection from neighbouring properties, and a 45-signature petition from residents in Albany Road, South Street, Lovent Drive and Hartwell Grove.

They insisted the noise from inside the nursery already caused unacceptable levels of disturbance for retired people, shift workers and home workers and that extending the hours, coupled with extra use of the garden, would only make matters worse.

Aside from potential noise issues, objectors also highlighted “critical” parking problems in Albany Road which they say would be exacerbated by an extension to the operating hours.

But there was also a counter petition containing 67 signatures from clients of the nursery, seven of whom live in Albany Road or the immediately surrounding streets. And an online petition set up after the LBO reported on the issues last week drew over 500 signatures of support for the business.

Cllr Ken Matthews, chairman of the committee, said: “The amount of vitriol in terms of this application has been astounding. I’m just wondering if it has gone too far.”

Resident Julian Cross told the meeting that the proposed traffic and noise management plans were unenforcable and relied on the good faith of the nursery.

He said: “Extended hours will undoubtedly increase parking pressures and anti-social parking.

“Longer periods of use of the garden will inevitably see an increase in noise emanating from it and not all structured play is devoid of, for instance, shrill voices, shouting and laughter.”

Mr Cross’ concerns were backed by Cllr Amanda Dodwell who urged the committee to reject the changes.

She said: “This has generated a lot of strong feeling on both sides of the argument.”

She dismissed the relevance of a 580-strong online petition as it didn’t address planning issues and many signatories wouldn’t have been local.

She added: “The applicant has a track record of not adhering to planning conditions [it had been opening before 8am]. I ask colleagues to seriously consider if a noise management plan would have any effect. If approved I urge the nursery to work with residents.

“There is potential for the garden to be used from 7.30 in the morning to 6.30 in the evening. For many there is a lot of pleasure from hearing children playing but for others it is distracting and a source of irritation.”

She added that an earlier opening time could make parking more difficult as residents wouldn’t have necessarily left for work.

She said she had seen video evidence of inconsiderate parking by nursery users and in one afternoon there had been two reported incidents of parking over driveways.

Edward Caldwell, director of Footsteps Nursery, said when the nursery was set up in 1991 Ofsted did not exist and in many circles it was a case of “children should be seen but not heard”, but he said things had moved on.

He said: “We want to provide an up to date service for our hard working and just about managing parents. We ask for a level playing field locally [with other nurseries].

“The more children can play outside, the better their life outcomes will be. Both physical development and mental health will improve, Obesity is tackled, diet is understood better by growing fruit and vegetables, I could go on.

“We have children in our nursery who are looked after by the state and have never even been in a garden. We must fight for the right for all children to be outdoors as much as possible. The idea of it being restricted in a built-up area in 2017 drew many shocked responses in the press.

“We ask for the conditions to be updated to reflect the times we live in.”

He said the nursery would support and promote a travel plan as agreed with CBC.

Cllr Nigel Young felt it was unfair to have a condition which prevented children going outdoors and said there should be a noise management plan. He said it would be down to Public Protection to respond to any complaints about noise levels.

Cllr David Bowater sad he quite enjoyed listening to children playing. “Some people become a grumpy old git when they get older, I have acquired four grandchildren, so I have got used to the noise of children and I love it. I am all in favour of letting the kids loose in the garden.”

He suggested the nursery have discussions with nearby Morrisons about letting parents use their car park and pointed to Tesco encouraging walking buses to local schools.

Cllr Tony Swain suggest a sound barrier be erected: “I love the sound of children playing but whether I’d want to listen to that all day I’d question.”

Cllr Kevin Collins added: Restricting [play outdoors] to two hours is akin to releasing them from a pressure cooker when they do go out.”

After the meeting, Mr Caldwell said: “We would like to thank the hundreds of local people who came out in support of the nursery, our staff, parents and families in particular. Common sense prevailed and we are looking forward to a bright future at Footsteps.”

As part of the approval, the nursery must now submit a noise management plan to CBC within a month.