Belleville school extension: Forthbridge Road site issues

3 mins read

The council proposes to use the school site on Forthbridge Road as overflow for Belleville Primary School from Sep 2011, but intend to deny local children access.

The second consultation on the plan has received over 456 objections vs just 33 supportive responses but the Children’s Services Dept. is still recommending that it should go-ahead!

1) Many local residents would like to see the site continue in school-use when it comes free this year but they have overwhelmingly rejected this proposal because:

(i) admission will still only be based on distance from the original Belleville site. This means any children living near the Forthbridge site will have no chance to attend.
(ii) there will be much more traffic from 120 non-local children and 12months of building work but no local benefit.
(iii) Belleville parents actually rejected an earlier plan for a purely on-site expansion at the school back in 2009.
(iv) there are concerns about council discussions to sell-off land adjacent to the site to property developers.

2) The plan would make Belleville the largest primary in the country, but a “Superschool” split over two sites nearly 1km apart is in no-one’s interest for parents, staff or most importantly the pupils. Many Belleville parents themselves are not keen on this latest expansion proposal! With just 33 positive responses – nobody really wants this and nobody thinks it’s a good idea. Moreover simply “stealing” a site from another ward doesn’t even begin to address the underlying reasons for growing demand such as the rising birth rate in the Borough, the movement of people to be near very successful schools, the council’s previous closures of primary schools and selling-off their sites and so on.

3) There are serious concerns about how the consultation process has been conducted:

(i) February’s initial consultation omitted any mention of the admission criteria! It received small support overall in-favour, but was therefore a misleading exercise. It’s results have been completely discredited by those of the second consultation (after campaigners requested that it’s notification should include a clarification on the admissions)
(ii) Many local residents tell us they did not even receive any communications from the council about either consultation and this includes two local nursery schools (despite the council saying they would consult with them). A supplementary report (Paper No.10-540Aa much-easier two pages) has now been issued acknowledging some, but not all of these points. It still recommends the proposal. Whatever it grudgingly says, we would point out that 456 people clearly didn’t think the initial consultation “was very clear” at all!

4) The council’s argument behind this ridiculous plan is there is “significant unmet demand” for the Honeywell and Belleville school so they must offer more places there, while saying there is “no such demand” on here on the northside. Of course the “Outstanding” schools of Belleville and Honeywell are oversubscribed but to say there is no such demand near the Forthbridge site is simply not true. Through a Freedom Of Information request we have evidence to show that there were actually more applications per place for the Wix school here on the northside (even to it’s normal intake English language stream) for 2010 reception places than there were for the reception places at Belleville. The council’s plan seems to be based on an approximate and out-of-date assessment of “demand” in this area.
5) We are asking the council to withdraw their unfair proposal. The rising birth rate in the Borough undoubtedly means more primary school places are needed. The fact that a site that could be used provide some of these places is about to become available is a good thing, provided this site can be used in fair & equitable way. We ask for further and more open consultation. This should involve a discussion forum and open meetings with residents living on and around Forthbridge Road, (the consultation conducted with Belleville parents back in 2009 included this). The council’s assessment of the lack of local demand for the site looks very questionable, we would like to see this properly re-assessed and re-visited in the light of 2010 application data.

6) We also ask that greater consideration should be given to a broader range of sensible options for the Forthbridge Road site. Options such as:

(i) The Wix school on the northside is much closer to the Forthbridge site (270m walking route) and is the obvious candidate to use the Forthbridge site. Wix is local school already attended by local children so future admission criteria could be handled much more fairly as the two sites are just a few streets apart. Already-local children would mean a much lesser increase in traffic too. Wix Governors have even complained about this Belleville expansion proposal and the Wix headmaster would be keen to expand Wix to include the Forthbridge site.
(ii) The Forthbridge site is large enough for a completely new primary school – 8 classrooms so “one form entry” or 30pupils per year (in fact the Belleville Governors currently intend to run it like that). The council say they only want to expand successful schools. No one would argue with wishing to leverage successful school management but this can be achieved in other ways such as mentoring, rather than a land grab.

7) The Education and Children’s Services Overview and Scrutiny Committee meets on Thurs1stJuly to make a decision and we are requesting to form a deputation to that committee. Please contact the councillors on the committee if you agree this plan is unfair.

Additional links:

  • The Education report (23Jun10) after both consultations still recommending the proposal, Paper No.10-540
  • Minutes & reports to previous committee meetings available here.

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  1. Dear Ian,
    First of all, thank you for all your efforts to protect our interests.
    We sent objections to our MP, our Shaftesbury councillors and Mr Paul Robinson.
    We completely agree with your ideas. It is ridiculous that Children’s Services Dept. (Paul Robinson) is still recommending that it should go-ahead. Where is the logic?
    Mr Peter Dawson, the Northcote Councilor, is the Chairman of the Comittee. Obviously it is in his interests to push this unfair project (more votes, his house situated close to Belleville, etc)…
    Unfortunately our Shaftesbury Councilors do not show a lot of involvment in the case. We have got only one reply from Cllr James Cousins, but he is unable to attend debates. The comittee member, Cllr Jonathan Cook did not even answer to our email concerning the expansion project. There was the same silence from Cllr Guy Senior who seems not to live in the area anymore.
    Indeed the Freedom of Information request is necessary to shed some light on this obscure decision-making.
    Kindest regards,
    Shaftesbury Ward residents
    P.S. Please count on us for any help.

  2. Regarding Shaftesbury Councillors you can read here an Open Letter to the Councillors of Shaftesbury Ward for their input in a previous dossier last year.
    Regarding the Chair of the Committee, Northcote road councillors are already elected with a comfortable margin. Therefore I wouldn’t subject obvious collusion of interest.
    However, if the Local Government Act 2000 (responsible for promoting high ethical standards in local democracy) applies, it might prevent Councillors with interest in the dossier, to take part of the debate.

    • Following the Committee meeting yesterday I would like to personally thank our Cllr Guy Senior and Cllr Jonathan Cook (member of the Committee) for their firm support.
      Well, they may be not perfect in the email communication but they really stand for Shaftesbury Ward local residents.
      However despite all efforts, the project was not rejected at this stage.

      • Good news for the support. However, some effort of communication towards their voters would be appreciated surely 🙂
        I don’t think that the point was having the scheme rejected. My understanding is that a school is welcomed there. And surely people would be delighted to have Belleville there. But what we need to focus on is the admission question: it is just plain WRONG that people cannot attend a school on their doorstep. Therefore the campaign must focus on that question, and clarify with the Council what sort of consultation will be run on admission policy.

  3. I agree. I meant that ideally the unfair plan could have been rejected to be replaced by the plan taking into account the local residents suggestions, in particular, the priority admission criteria.
    Or another fair solution would have been to extend Wix school (bliingual stream) instead of Belleville.

    • Anatoliy Konyakhin> But is there an official demand from the director of Wix bilingual? That is the point: Belleville did make a demand, and that makes the difference.
      I know that Cllr Sutters would like to press on expending Wix bilingual. However as long as there is no official demand from that school, the Council cannot do much.

  4. I have been astonished by the poverty of thought represented in the consultation document circulated recently. I do believe it is possible to balance the needs of all groups of residents: those in the Aldebrook area, those in the existing priority catchent area and also families with children with siblings at Belleville that may be outside the priority areas.
    The consultation document does not explain all the issued clearly. Nor explore the possible solutions sufficiently. Not even the questions are clear. Nor is there is any statistical information on the numbers of people likely to be affected and how many children would apply from each area. The document raises many other questions too that are key to making a complete and fair decision.
    Such a consultation document just encourages people to be self serving and not consider the community as a whole. The consultation as it is currently positioned should be discouraged. It is the lowest form of democracy.
    I do not trust the Council to make a fair decision. I think the residents themselves will make a far better decision. Therefore I would suggest the council allows a representative group of six residents to form a committee to consider all the facts and recommend a solution the council. They should be able to explain their eventual recommendation to all and sundry in a public meeting.

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