Please help Little Muddy Me Outdoor Pre-school stay open.

Please help Little Muddy Me Outdoor Pre-school stay open.

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Victoria Egarr started this petition to The Royal Borough of Winsdor and Maidenhead Council Planning team

Our story.

I opened Little Muddy Me in January as the first outdoor pre-school in Maidenhead. I also own Little Me in Bray which received ‘outstanding’ on the first inspection in 2018. Muddy Me Pre-school in Bray is a solely outside forest school pre-school at Bray Lake, it provides a wonderful outdoor space for children aged 2-5, to explore and discover their natural surroundings. At Little Muddy Me Pre-school, we spend all day outside, come rain or shine, connecting with nature. We have created a nurturing and welcoming environment, which is safe and secure for the children to be able to enjoy child-led learning through play, interactivity with nature, fun and friendship. Our team are committed to providing every child with the opportunities that they deserve to grow and flourish through independence and activity. We encourage children to climb trees, use tools, swing in the hammock, play in the mud kitchen and hunt for bugs. Being outside in nature is more important now than it has ever been; as we transition from this unprecedented time into the new norm, our children will need the outdoors more than ever as a means to explore themselves and make sense of the world we live in. There is a growing base of evidence that backs upon what we have always known - access to green space is beneficial for children’s mental wellbeing, as well as physical wellbeing and learning. What’s more, government guidance for schools is encouraging them to move learning outside where possible to lower the risk of COVID transmission through our children. What safer place for these children to be, than outside in the woods?  Shutting us down would be a devastating hit to their wellbeing.

On the day of our Open Day we were told by RBWM that we did not have the appropriate planning permission, but we were informed that it wouldn’t be a problem as long as we made a retrospective planning application. Straight away this is what we did, we opened in good faith. Unfortunately, on 1st May 2020 we heard the devastating news that our plans would be rejected. We withdrew the planning application so we could try to overcome the issues.

Before I found the perfect site for Little Muddy Me, I originally applied for planning permission to use an area of woodland located on Gays Lane (Holyport) which was refused planning permission. We made an Appeal to the Planning Inspectorate but that Appeal was subsequently dismissed, for reasons relating to the impact upon the area’s character and also because the Inspector considered that the development would harm the openness of the Green Belt. On reflection I can appreciate why. It was the wrong site and as fate would have it, it was this knock back that led us to discover our perfect site at Bray Lake.

It appears that the Council remains resistant to our proposed use of this site and has cited the dismissed Appeal at Gays Lane as justification not to grant permission for our proposed use of the site at Bray Lake.

Our current site has none of the issues that applied to the site at Gays Lane .There are no highway issues, it has an existing carpark, it was already fenced which we simply replaced to make it safer for the children, we have made sure this fence is in keeping with the environment and its surroundings, and it is imperative that it is there whether we are on site or not, as the quarry behind it needs to be double fenced for public safety.

There are 4 reasons why the Council would be resistant to a fresh planning application. These are:-

1)     Trees - We absolutely don't want to cut down any trees as the planning officer is suggesting. We have plans to plant more trees and manage the site in a positive way. Most of the trees are still young and were only planted 20 years ago, the site hasn’t been managed and a management plan is in place to protect the trees and wildlife. We need trees as we are a forest school. Our operation is about enhancing and protecting woodland space and developing in the children an ethos of doing the same.

2)     Contaminated land- Bray Parish Council have suggested we are on contaminated land However, we have instructed consultants to undertake site investigation including boreholes. No evidence of contamination has been found.

3)     Flooding – At the beginning of 2020 we saw some of the worst flooding in years and we did not flood. However, a flood assessment is in place and in the highly unlikely event of a flood we would have notice and wouldn’t open the pre-school.  At no point would we put the children in any danger or be stranded due to flooding. We are working on being able to demonstrate safe and dry access and escape if the side ever did flood, which is what we need to do to satisfy the Environment Agency. We are not building anything therefore will not create structural changes in the land which could make flooding worse.

4)     Green Belt – As with most of the Borough, our site is washed over by the Green Belt. We have made it very clear that we have no desire to build any permanent structures on the site and we have a maximum capacity of 24 children despite being large enough to legally hold many more.  The fence we replaced was exactly that, a replacement. To paint a picture of where we are, we are on the same road as Summerleaze Pit, and South East Water.  These are both large sites with continuous streams of large vehicles leaving and entering them.  Across the lake on Green Belt land a new hospice is being built!  What is so soul destroying, as qualified Forest School Practitioners we understand more than anyone the benefits of Green Belt, nature and the environment.  Through allowing our children to play and explore nature daily, it is our sole purpose to keep our children safe and encourage nature connection.  Nature Connection not only benefits our children’s mental health and wellbeing, but it instils in them pro-environmental attitudes teaching them to respect the land they play on.  Why would we want to destroy the land which we honour and respect to our very core?

We believe we have the right information to successfully counter points 1-3, however the Green Belt issue is more complex. There are some “special circumstances” that allow development in the Green Belt (I don’t see our school as “development” but planners see it that way) and unfortunately we do not fit neatly into any of the tick boxes. Education is a special circumstance but at a previous meeting RBWM stated that education in England officially starts at 5 years of age, so we are not classed as education! Outdoor Leisure can be another special circumstance, but we don’t fit that box either, I believe we sit in both boxes, with the children learning through outdoor leisure activities.

We now need the Council’s Planning Officers to see that the benefits of Muddy Me far outweigh any negative impacts on the Green Belt and is an appropriate “development of the Green Belt. By signing this petition, you are stating that you believe in this statement.

Thank you for taking the time to read this Statement and for your support.

0 have signed. Let’s get to 2,500!
At 2,500 signatures, this petition is more likely to get picked up by local news!