On 16th December 2009 the Children and Young People’s Overview and Scrutiny Committee
chaired by Cllr Mike Coleman, met to discuss how the Adderley Green – “ËœSpringfield’ – site had come to be put forward as the site for an academy school.
Other committee members present were Cllrs Ann James, Zulfiqar Ali, Rita Dale, Mark Davis and Ellie Walker and Wilfred Stanforth as parent governor representative.
(I include a few of my own comments in brackets.)
The meeting had come about because of a request by Longton North ward Cllr Denver Tolley, so he was asked to introduce the issue.
Denver Tolley explained that the first he knew of a plan for a school to be built on Adderley Green was when he attended a presentation at Willfield and not until he was there did he realise the area described as “ËœSpringfield’ was actually Adderley Green. He said that planners had suggested to put an entrance from Nyewood Road which wasn’t going to happen. Also there are unacceptable walking routes in the cutting on Anchor Road where the pavement is too narrow and on Dividy Road by the flats where there is only a pavement on one side of the road. He pointed out that with ~1200 planned pupils, 150-180 staff and evening activities, a small area would be swamped. Protesters over a wide area rejected the use of Adderley Green for a school.
Ged Rowney ““ SERCO – showed a map with the options “Ëœconsidered’ for an academy to replace Mitchell and Edensor: Mitchell, Berry Hill, Willfield, Park Hall, Mossfield, “ËœSpringfield, Longton High, Weston Sprink, Edensor High. (Note that as well as the plan for Mitchell and Edensor to close, Longton High school is no Longer admitting pupils and will go following amalgamation into Sandon and the plan is for Berry Hill to close because St. Peter’s is forming an academy on the old Fenton 6th form college site.) Ged Rowney referred to the pre-planning “Ëœconsultation’ which only included the Park Hall and Springfield options. Following the rejection of the planning application for Springfield he said either issues could be addressed and the planning application brought back to Development Management Committee, or other sites could be looked at.
Mike Coleman obtained agreement from the committee for Ian Jenkin, vice-chair of Springfield Action Group to sit with the committee and address them, as requested by Denver Tolley.
Ian Jenkin lives fairly close to the Adderley Green site but has no particular issues himself, no children or grandchildren living in the area, except that he wants justice for the local community. He pointed out the almost unanimous objection to this site, not only from near neighbours but from a much wider area. He gave a thorough account of the many issues. On 17th November 2008
a Site Feasibility Report presented to CYPO&S showed Springfield failed feasibility.
(See pages 11-15 and note that a detailed analysis is only done for 5 of the sites listed on Ged Rowney’s map: Willfield, Park Hall, Springfield, Mossfield and Weston Sprink. 3 sites FAILED this feasibility study, including Springfield. Park Hall emerged as the preferred site with Willfield possible.)
The statutory consultation on the school closures had run from 18th May 2009 to 29th June 2009 with Park Hall as the preferred site, approved by cabinet on 22nd July 2009, but only after that did Springfield become apparent as a site. On 10th June 2009 a letter was issued to a much smaller number of people about the proposed “ËœPark Hall’ academy, requesting comments by 24th July 2009, 2 days AFTER the cabinet decision. This smaller “Ëœconsultation’ was for Park Hall and “ËœSpringfield’, sent to 663 residents, businesses and stakeholders. Ian asked: Why the name Springfield? How many of the 663 were actually residents? Why was the exhibition not held in Adderley Green, it was at Willfield but Bentilee is a different community. Only 30 people attended the exhibition ““ ridiculously low, a proper consultation would have needed 10,000 letters. He said many people destroyed the letter because they did not recognise the name. Ross Irving had said in an interview for pits’n’pots
that Springfield was always the preferred option, which looked very suspicious. Ian referred to a previous CYPO&S recommendation
that Berry Hill and Mitchell merge to a new school on the Mitchell site, which had been rejected the following day, before minutes were written up, by a farcical cabinet meeting.
(I like Ian, he seems even more outspoken than I am in the language he uses though and his sensitivity to possible conspiracies!)
Ian persisted in using an altered name for one of the council officers, in revenge for Adderley Green being renamed Springfield.
He also coined a new term – BSCS consortium, as the actual decision makers in the council on schools reorganisation (a subset of common purpose I expect). BSCS stands for: Bsf Serco Cabinet Sponsor.
He said whether the BSCS were actually trying to be misleading (deceit, devious, dishonest, dictatorial, bullies and incompetent were words actually used but Mike Coleman objected to the language) or not, the effect was the same. He cited a long list of examples including:
Ã‚· An assurance of the number of stories in the planned building being 2 then subsequently increasing to 3 then 4.
Ã‚· A wildlife survey regarding bats being replaced by an addendum with no mention of original issues. A list of bat sightings is available from SAG.
Ã‚· A claim that letters from residents to planning protested about wasted funds on bsf, whereas the letters actually refer to government criticism of this.
Ã‚· A claim that a school on Adderley Green would encourage and extend community use, when in fact it would not be available to the community during school time.
Ã‚· A travel document said people nearby could walk to the school. Ian said it was “very clever of them to work this out all by themselves” (at which point I very nearly burst into a fit of giggles, the way he told it sounded so funny). In fact the journey to school from those in the Mitchell area would tend to double in distance and 85% of Mitchell pupils and 65% of Edensor pupils would have further to travel.
Ã‚· The report says the route is generally satisfactory, but huge problems with pavements have already been pointed out.
Ã‚· Page 8 in the recent issue of “ËœOur City’ (oh no not the spin machine again) says the schools program broadly received an enthusiastic welcome ““ not from these affected areas it hasn’t.
Ã‚· The question “do you agree in principle with replacement of the existing school with a new school” attempting to load the answers and being used to claim 35 responses that “could be considered to be in support” and 65 objections. Whereas in fact if they are reanalysed taking into account those who said yes but not on Adderley Green they become 15 in favour and 85 against.
Ã‚· A meeting at Bentilee Neighbourhood Centre where a show of hands rejected the Berry Hill / St. Peter’s merger was not well reported.
Ã‚· Mitchell governors voted for an expression of interest for an academy but only with caveats attached which have now been disregarded, one of which said the vote only holds if the academy is on the Mitchell site.
Ã‚· On 12th August Ross Irving had said he would talk to the community but this hadn’t gone well. Ian said he may be able to bully his cabinet but he can’t bully the protesters. There was a last minute attempt to buy off the SAG by “Ëœgiving back’ a small section of the Springfield site, a small part overgrown with brambles not used by people or used in the school plans. (This was one possibility I had warned SAG of before the meeting but I found they had learned quickly and were on the ball with this.) Ian said he had to laugh at the absurd belief that SAG would fall for this.
To close Ian said SAG were raising funds for a judicial review if needed but that if SOT council presses ahead, other parties will bring criminal proceedings against them because of the land contamination issues mentioned in Tony Walley’s report.
He said the planning document on the contamination has a report but no summary or recommendation, does anyone in BSCS know of the risks? He hopes Ross Irving and anyone else involved should be disgusted with themselves and consider their position.
The committee then debated the issues.
Denver Tolley couldn’t understand why the wish to break up the Mitchell area and Adderley Green area communities or why people would want to send their children out of their community to an academy. The views that people who don’t live in Stoke-on-Trent impose on Stoke-on-Trent are a bit over the top.
Mike Coleman said he experienced honesty and integrity with the BSF officers and asked Ged Rowney who decided Springfield was suitable. Ged Rowney said this was the “ËœBSF Board’ including representatives from the council, officers, DCSF, PfS (he rattled off some more a bit quick for me to catch) which considers a wide range of issues and that decided Springfield has now not failed feasibility. (Where are the membership and minutes of this BSF board published?) He is concerned about safeguarding children and the contamination but isn’t sure if this is a scare tactic or not.
Mike Coleman asked what support ward councillors on the committee found there was for the Springfield site. Denver Tolley said he did not detect any support. Mark Davis said objections started close to the site, he had some comments of support but nowhere near as many as were against. Mike Coleman said an advice document from a government minister says that the community should choose sites. Ged Rowney said there was a letter saying the council should decide, cabinet receives council reports and chooses sites.
Zulfiqar Ali asked what the arguments are against Park Hall and Willfield. Ged Rowney said Park Hall is green belt, would cost a lot and had issues with wildlife and different levels. Willfield has accessibility issues. Mossfield has levels issues. Springfield is owned by the council, has a good size, is in the right area and accessible. (Right area, accessible!) Zulfiqar Ali asked Ian Jenkin if the plans were modified to leave enough green space and footpath area would residents then not object. Ian Jenkin did not believe it was possible to do justice to both a green space and a school on that land.
Denver Tolley said the playing fields are important, it is no good to fence them off and give them to an academy.
Rita Dale asked why none of the ward councillors received the pre-planning consultation letter. Ged Rowney thought it had been and said that Cllrs Tolley, M Davis, Reynolds and Rob Flello MP had attended the exhibition. (It strikes me these are just the Longton North ward councillors and MP for that area, omitting any wider area the school would supposedly serve.)
Ann James said much of Stoke-on-Trent was slag heaps and landfill underneath, including Adderley Green. She is concerned about people coming in from outside the city not doing research and wonders if increasing cancer rates and poor achievement in children could be linked to use of bad sites. Old plans had clear areas marked that should not be used. It is safer to use existing sites than dig up new ones. She is concerned also about not being able to get sight of any academy sports strategies because sports use depends on what agreements are signed with the academies. The sponsors don’t necessarily provide money for all the services needed. She is also concerned about the large population in Bentilee that need to be served and their travel to school. She had looked at Mitchell High and was impressed with how it engages with its community. Mitchell and Willfield sites are available for use.
Ellie Walker wanted to know much more about the contamination and the costs to clear it, professionals should be brought in to look into this. She is concerned cabinet members do not know about this.
Ian Mitchell said 90% of the city is contaminated land.
Tracy Penrose admitted that remedying sites costs a lot of money.
Zulfiqar Ali asked if it is possible to run one academy with two sites, Edensor and Mitchell. Ged Rowney said anything is possible but there is “quite a distance between the two sites”. (That has hit the nail squarely on the head then. It’s the wrong merger! ““ Mitchell and Berry Hill should merge.)
Wilfred Stanforth said he is not from Stoke-on-Trent but knows the area in general. He said traffic problems need addressing but he thinks it is the right area. He suggested to “deal with the community”. On contamination he suggested “to eat a peck of dirt”. (!)
Denver Tolley said rule should be by consent and why not have two sites for two communities and pointed out that two communities have come together to prevent their communities splitting. Ged Rowney is concerned that the forthcoming visit by ministers Ed Balls and Vernon Coaker may go against “local democracy”. (I’m rendered absolutely speechless by that comment from Ged there!)
Mike Coleman then made recommendations as detailed in Tony Walley’s report
for voting on:
1. Springfield site contamination investigated urgently. Carried unanimously.
2. Springfield site not to be used for a school because of minimal community support, access and green space issues. Carried 4 to 2 with 1 abstention.
3. Future ongoing BSF consultations to be much wider including all affected. Carried unanimously.
4. Reassertion of previous CYPO&S committee recommendation to choose the Mitchell site. Carried 4 to 3.