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Letter: The Effingham Decision Was Taken Under the Conservative Regime

From Paul Kennedy

former Lib Dem Parliamentary candidate for Mole Valley

Mixed reactions indeed to the Howard of Effingham appeal. My daughter is a teacher and I have visited the school and seen for myself the desperate need for investment, and spoken to many residents who are supporters and opponents of the proposals. So I fully understand the joy of the school and its supporters over this result which whatever else will eventually get our children the better education they deserve.

And for the many residents who opposed the development in its current form please don’t blame the school. This was never what the school wanted.

The school made clear that it only turned to this scheme as a last resort because ministers had turned down their request for funding.
Indeed, for me, the most striking sections of the inspector’s report are when he refers to the school’s meeting with Michael Gove (then Education Secretary) who reportedly “wrung his hands” and said there was no funding, and when he contrasts the predicament of other schools without a “convenient bit of high-value green belt land” to build on.

Who knows how much extra funding would have been provided if the Howard had bowed to Conservative ideology and opted to become a grammar school?

So, whichever side of the argument you are on, it should not be forgotten that it is the Conservatives who have:

  • failed to provide the funding the school desperately needs and for which they are responsible
  • broken their promises to protect the green belt
  • overridden local democracy and the wishes of local residents as expressed in their neighbourhood development plan, and
  • in the case of Guildford Borough Council, failed to maintain an adequate Local Plan thereby opening the way for its unanimous decision to be overridden.

Can four wrongs nevertheless be right for the school? Let’s hope so. But it should not have happened this way.

With interest rates at record lows, the government could and should have been prepared to provide the investment needed to enable the school to renew and expand its buildings, as I argued at the last general election – without pitting the school and its supporters against residents and the countryside.

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One Response to Letter: The Effingham Decision Was Taken Under the Conservative Regime

  1. J Dickinson Reply

    March 28, 2018 at 4:03 pm

    As I have previously discussed with Paul Kennedy, it is all local politicians who need to be held to account here, not least because:

    1) Michael Gove was Secretary of State for Education from 2010 to 2014, ie during the coalition government

    2) Liz Hogger, the Borough Councillor for Effingham, is a Liberal Democrat and so it is she who is required by the NPPF to work constructively with the Howard as this extract shows:

    “The government attaches great importance to ensuring that a sufficient choice of school places is available to meet the needs of existing and new communities. Local planning authorities should take a proactive, positive and collaborative approach to meeting this requirement, and to develop that will widen choice in education. They should:

    * give great weight to the need to create, expand or alter schools
    * work with schools promoters to identify and resolve key planning issues before applications are submitted.”

    As outlined in my recent post on “Mixed Views As Berkeley Homes And The Howard Win Planning Appeal For New School And 295 Homes in Effingham”, key failures at a local political level need to be acknowledged and addressed. Mr Kennedy is right to say that the school tried very hard to secure public sector funding, and to highlight the fact that the desperate needs of the school are obvious to those who visit it.

    Given the duty to cooperate and the clear guidance in para 72, in neglecting to plan positively not just to rectify these deficiencies but also to make improvements to the most significant infrastructure asset in its boundary, Effingham’s NDP was very clearly flawed. After all, residents are residents, even (and I would actually go as far as to say, especially) if they are not yet old enough to vote.

    I trust that Paul Kennedy will ensure that this message is well and truly received by the Liberal Democrats so that, going forward, everyone will pull in the same direction.

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