Back to basics for school plan
Once again, the Stevenage Comet ignores the Liberal Democrats. Anybody reading your article on the Hertfordshire County Council (HCC) Cabinet meeting of January 14, at which the problems surrounding the Building Schools For The Future (BSF) funding and pl
Once again, the Stevenage Comet ignores the Liberal Democrats. Anybody reading your article on the Hertfordshire County Council (HCC) Cabinet meeting of January 14, at which the problems surrounding the Building Schools For The Future (BSF) funding and plans were discussed (Comet January 17, pages 8 and 9) could be forgiven for thinking that I, as the only Stevenage Liberal Democrat County Councillor, was not involved, and that I had nothing to say on the issue. You manage, however, to quote at length members of other parties, some of whom who have no connection with Stevenage or the county council.
For the record, I received a great many communications from local residents, following the major U-turn by HCC over agreed plans to move Thomas Alleyne School to Great Ashby and instead expand it on its current site which, a few months ago, the officers of HCC had said was virtually impossible. I promised those residents, and others, that I would do my best to raise the many issues in front of the nine Conservative members of the HCC single party Cabinet, who would make the decisions. This I did.
I was the only one of the five Stevenage county councillors to speak at the Cabinet meeting and, amongst other things, I made the following points:
1. The decisions on what to do with Thomas Alleyne, and the closure of Heathcote, should be deferred and subject to re-consultation, in accordance with promises given by HCC officers during the public consultation last year, in view of the major departure from plans upon which the original consultation had been based.
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2. The BSF programme is a once in a lifetime opportunity to get Stevenage secondary schools right. Educational attainment (as measured by the government's crude league tables) in Stevenage remains below the national or county averages - a point illustrated yet again in a different article (Comet January 17, page 39) - and generations of Stevenage school students should not suffer a possible long term error in schools' organisation, just to meet the government's March deadline on BSF plans.
3. The central government funds will not suddenly disappear and, with pressure and support from local politicians of all parties, it should be possible to extend the deadline long enough for proper, full local consultation on these new proposals.
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4. There may now be potential damage to the future of Thomas Alleyne School, because last year HCC officers stated that it would either move or be closed. Now that it is not to move, will it suffer if it is perceived as under threat?
5. The closure of Heathcote is now under question also. Put simply, if two eight form entry secondary schools can now, according to HCC, co-exist happily in the north of the town, why cannot the same happen in the south of Stevenage?
6. Other issues, which were so important in HCC's view a few months ago, ruling out expansion of Thomas Alleyne on its present site, now seem to have melted away and are dismissed. Some of these are traffic movements at rush hour and loss of playing fields for Thomas Alleyne, Barclay, John Henry Newman and loss of an extra facility for North Hertfordshire College, as well as the imbalance between secondary school provision and population centres - all of which are mentioned only briefly and without solution in the cabinet report on which the decisions were based at the meeting on January 14.
7. The latest proposals, cobbled together at the last minute, were made available to councillors and public only a week or so prior to the meeting.
8. The Conservative Cabinet at HCC agreed only to my suggestion of deferring the proposals on Thomas Alleyne, to allow further investigation of the Great Ashby site. There will be no public consultation exercise. I fear that at the next cabinet meeting, in February, there may be a short dismissive report stating that the move to Great Ashby is still off and that the ill-judged expansion on the present site will proceed. If so, we will know that the further investigations were all a cosmetic exercise.
ROBIN PARKER, (Liberal Democrat County Councillor, Chells and Borough Councillor, Manor)