Hibernating lizards stall work on two new classrooms for local primary school - and they found some grass snakes, too

Beck Row Primary School.

Beck Row Primary School. - Credit: Archant

The creation of two new classrooms at a west Suffolk primary school has been stalled – because of lizards which are hibernating a mile away from the site.

It was hoped Beck Row Primary School would increase by two classrooms in time for the start of the new academic year in September, as Suffolk County Council predicted an increase in pupil numbers.

The school was due to convert space in its current building into the additional classrooms when the village community association, which shares the site, moved out into a new state-of-the-art premises and visitor centre.

But that move has now been held up because a planning application for the new community hall on Aspal Park County Wildlife Site nature reserve – about a one-mile drive away from the school – was withdrawn due to concerns over the reptiles.

Grass snakes were discovered as well as common lizards during a reptile survey commissioned by Suffolk County Council, which is the applicant for the new centre.

The lizards and snakes are both protected species.

Comments from the Suffolk Wildlife Trust raising issues with the proposed relocation of the reptiles led to the withdrawal of the application while attempts to address these concerns were made.

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A county council spokesman said: “The Aspal Close site does present ecological issues, which we are aware of and are addressing as part of the planning application. The two main issues are the lizards present on site, and the protection of the seed rich topsoil on the construction site.

“During the planning process, Suffolk Wildlife Trust and other representatives have asked for more ecological information, which has caused a delay in the planning process, our design team and ecologist are working on these issues with a view to resolving as soon as possible.”

Despite the setback, governors at the school, which is next to the US Air Force base at RAF Mildenhall, do not think children in the area will be left without a place in the next school year.

Chairman of governors Richard Greenfield said: “The county council are saying they expect an increase, but we are not convinced that an influx of children is going to happen. They have not explained their reasoning or shown us the numbers.

“They proposed that we put up temporary classrooms, but there were several issues over the car park and whether they were suitable so we rejected the plan.”

Dr Greenfield explained that the school, like many in the vicinity of the USAF bases, had large year groups in early years, from reception to around year three, but very small year six and year five groups. This is due to USAF children often leaving after the early years.

“There is some extra development in the area, but we do have a spare classroom we can use,” added Dr Greenfield. “I hope that children will not be left without places.

“It is a setback for the school [the delay] because we currently do not control our own building. It is not just the extra capacity, but the issues with sharing the hall, the building and the car park with the community association. It will give us independence. Ultimately both the school and the association will reap enormous benefits from the project.”