Council row casts doubt on plans for disabled access at primary school
Twm Owen – Local Democracy Service
A new lift for a primary school has been placed in doubt due to a row over how a £400,000 windfall is spent.
It had been agreed at the end of July the cash, from a housing development, would be spent on bringing two classrooms at Castle Park Primary School in Caldicot back into use, boosting its capacity from 210 places to 260 from September 2024. That would involve adding a small lift so the first floor classrooms would be accessible to those with physical disabilities.
But a Monmouthshire County Council committee has ordered that the decision be put on ice until it can be considered by the full council – which won’t meet again until Thursday, September 21.
But with just weeks left until pupils return for the new school term a Monmouthshire County Council committee has ordered that the decision be put on ice until it can be considered by the full council – which won’t meet again until Thursday, September 21.
The opposition Conservative group had complained as the money is from a housing development at the former Sudbrook Paper Mill site, claiming it should be spent in the Portskewett ward where there is demand for more spaces at the Archbishop Rowan Williams Church in Wales primary rather than at Castle Park school, which is 2.1 miles away by foot and in the neighbouring Caldicot ward.
Cllr Martyn Groucutt, who is responsible for education, said the plan agreed by the Labour-led cabinet in July was to spend £439,286 that is already available at Castle Park but that a further £1 million would be spent at Archbishop Rowan Williams as it is paid to the council from other housing developments in the area at Crick Road and Church Road.
He said work at Caldicot could be carried out immediately, to address the “total lack of suitable places in the town”, while the church school is currently just four places off its 210 pupil capacity but it would benefit from the projected £811,000 and £345,000 sums to be paid by the developers of the Crick Road and Church Road housing schemes respectively.
“Archbishop Rowan Williams School will benefit from an amount of £1million and £156,000 and in addition to that will have a brand new nursery built for it, paid for by the Welsh Government,” Cllr Groucutt told the scrutiny committee which was examining the decision.
“The only cash the authority has fully got in the bank is the £439,000. If we were to split that between the two schools they would get £215,000 to 20,000 each and it would not be sufficient for either school.”
He said the £439,000 is enough to cover the “minor changes” needed at Castle Park so the immediate shortage of places can be addressed.
“The other £1 million and £156,000 can all be allocated, every penny of it, to Archbishop Rowan Williams School where the need is not immediate.”
He added the headteacher and governing body of the church school are “supportive” of how the cabinet had agreed to allocate the funds.
Council schools manager Cath Saunders also said the amount currently available wouldn’t cover the costs of new toilets, classrooms and other accommodation needed at Archbishop Rowan Williams.
Conservative councillor for Portskewett, Lisa Dymock – who had requested the cabinet’s decision be “called in” and examined by the scrutiny committee –said children living in her ward, including Sudbrook, have been unable to access places at Archbishop Rowan Williams.
“There are children on the Paper Mill development, and in Treetops, the estate opposite Archbishop Rowan Williams, who cannot attend the school and have to travel further afield to Caldicot and even Chepstow.”
She said the £439,000 was generated from a section 106 legal agreement, tied to planning permission, intended to address the impact of new developments on an area.
She said: “I’m not happy it is being taken away to be spent in another ward. It should be shared between the two schools and I would support that.”
At the meeting it was also confirmed the section 106 agreement, reached in 2016, identified both Archbishop Rowan Williams and Castle Park primaries as potential beneficiaries.
Council legal officer Jo Case confirmed there was no requirement for the cash to be divided equally between the schools or for it to be shared at all, and it was within the cabinet’s gift to decide how it is allocated.
The scrutiny committee could have agreed to accept the decision made by the cabinet, or referred it back to the cabinet to think again, but instead decided it should be left for the full council to make a decision.
The decision to refer it to the full council was supported by five members of the committee, with Independent councillor Simon Howarth, voting with the four Conservatives while the four Labour members all agreed to accept the cabinet’s original decision.
There was a long delay, of nearly 20 minutes to confirm the decision as it was thought committee chairman, Labour councillor John Crook, had used a casting vote to confirm the committee had accepted the original decision.
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