Another split has opened among the fracturing local Conservatives group.
Adam Kellett, the councillor for Ashburton ward, took to the floor of a packed public meeting at South Norwood’s Croydon Youth Theatre Organisation on Wednesday night to tell the deputy leader of Croydon Tories that his plans for a large school squeezed on to two sites near the Croydon Arena was “wrong”.
Tim Pollard is the senior Conservative councillor in charge of education on Croydon Council, and he has unveiled plans to provide millions of pounds of public funds to build a 1,150-student sports and life sciences school for a private academy on two restricted sites in South Norwood.
Pollard’s proposal looks to pour a quart into a couple of half pint pots that are the sites around the edges of the Croydon Arena on Albert Road and at the now closed adult education facility in Sandown Road, but it seems likely that the scheme will, controversially, take Metropolitan Open Land next to the South Norwood Country Park.
“He has got this one wrong,” Kellett said emphatically.Kellett was drawn into local politics through his involvement in residents’ opposition to a Labour-run council proposal to build a leisure centre on the same site. Kellett stated that he wanted to “remain consistent” in his opposition to such development of the site.
An ally of Kellett in that campaign is local resident Sue Kennett. “The Conservatives supported the residents when in opposition to Labour’s leisure centre proposal,” she said, “but now it’s the Conservative council who are proposing taking the same Metropolitan Open Land. How times change.”
Among the many expressions of concern about the proposal was that from the headteacher of Ryelands Primary, which is next to the Arena. Carmel Dolan expressed shock that, “We learnt of the proposal by accident at a heads’ meeting”. She criticised poor communication from the council, and expressed serious concern over plans that would see a single road entrance to the proposed academy at the Arena.
With Croydon’s school place shortage at crisis point, Pollard and other council politicians began the meeting modestly positive about the proposal, but after testing the (gale force) wind of opposition from the 150 residents, they retreated to “we are listening mode” in the middle of the meeting.
This does not mean that the proposal will not go ahead even if local tax-payers oppose the idea, with serious implications for the existing regular sports users of the Arena, including Croydon FC and Croydon Harriers.
The council official presenting the case for the academy said that this was “not a voting situation”. All a bit like Roke Primary’s experience.
The official who appears determined to get this project delivered took the bullet of the audience’s ire for the politicians, who sheltered in safety on the edge of the stage giving occasional non-committal commentaries.
With the council needing to secure the support of the London Mayor for the use of Metropolitan Open Land, the use of the magic suggestion of “an Olympic Legacy” will be employed heavily by Croydon to secure approval – all very Twenty Twelve.
This latest piece of half-baked thinking replaces an earlier piece of education kite-flying by Pollard, who had previously floated the notion of turning the Sandown Road site into a more modest, four-form entry “satellite” grammar school. None of Sutton and Bromley’s selective schools came forward to sponsor the venture, probably because it was entirely unviable.
In all of this, the transfer of a massive amount of public cash to another private education organisation in providing the land and buildings looks as if it may pass by almost unremarked.
The council plans to rush the process forward to have a sponsor approved by themselves and Michael Gove, the Secretary of State for Education, by April 29.
The local MP Gavin Barwell, who somehow forgot to mention that he is Gove’s Personal Private Secretary, said that, “I don’t have a formal role in the decision-making process.”
The council are desperate for more school places. In an amazing admission of an appalling breakdown in forward planning, the council official emphasised the urgency of the situation by stating that the council will be short of student places equivalent to 14 secondary schools by the autumn of 2017: that is an extraordinary shortfall of up to 12,600 school places.
The council might be exaggerating for effect but it’s little wonder that relations are strained in the Conservative council group when party colleagues are pushed into contradicting each other in public by the severity of the school place shortage crisis.
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- Whoops… Council setting the agenda for blunders (insidecroydon.com)