Two Village Green Public Enquiries

On Tuesday 1st February 2011, the Registration of Town and Village Greens Panel of Stoke-on-Trent City Council met, for the first time since July 2007, to consider two village green applications, one at Hulme Road, Park Hall and the other at Anchor Road, Adderley Green.

An application for village green status had been submitted in both cases following council plans to site the Discovery Academy there. Not only did the communities not want a school sited in these locations, they also realized that open green space they had perhaps taken for granted for ongoing community use could be built upon and they wanted to protect it. Margaret Lowe for the Community Schools Action Group applied for Village Green Status for the Park Hall land and Ian Jenkin for the Adderley Green Residents Association applied for Village Green status for the Adderley Green land.

Both applicants attended to observe proceedings at the meeting, although they could not attend the first hour during which panel members were being briefed. Paul Hackney, the legal officer, recommended public enquiries on the basis that the council was the land owner and the decision maker and there were other legal complexities. All panel members supported the recommendation and confirmed with Margaret Lowe and Ian Jenkin that they did too. Ian asked about the financial implications, since an application for Penkhull had been withdrawn for fear of cost liability. However the committee stated that costs would be borne by the council and would be £10,000 for both applications, not each as reported in the Sentinel.

Margaret told the Sentinel afterwards that if a member of the public had objected to village green status the objection would have been thrown out and a decision made there and then, saving costs. But as the council had objected this was their way of being ‘open and transparent’, but also trying to get the public on their side by stating the use of public money.

Ian told the Sentinel that as the council are owners of the land, objectors to the application and have to make a decision on it, there was only really one decision they could have made. However he was pleased about this.

Paul Hackney and the panel chair Joy Garner will appoint an independent inspector. We could hear more about this in May. Following the public enquiry the inspector will make a recommendation to the council that they may be expected to adopt, although they do not have to. If village green status is obtained there would be total removal of any possible development, securing the open space for the community.

Lies, Labour and Libdems

I thought to comment on the Ask The Leader Debrief but as any comment I can make is long, I decided to blog it.

I thank Mohammed Pervez, although I don’t agree with him much, for being willing to do the online question session and thank pits’n’pots and everyone else involved for facilitating it.

Some of my questions I realised relate quite generally to the concept of what should not be done in an election campaign, in particular telling lies or distorting the truth or perpetrating smears on others. These things, quite rightly, infuriate people. Not just me either. We can see this nationally at the moment with students’ (amongst others including me) indignation at libdems promising before the election to vote against any rise in tuition fees and now it seems planning to break this promise. What really infuriates people is more than the policy itself (so minor stupid tinkering with it at this stage just won’t wash); it is the lies. People are directing their fury at the libdems much more than the tories, because although it is a shared policy, the tories didn’t lie on this matter. The lies undermine the whole concept of a legitimate mandate to govern. If people vote tory with their stated policies and they get in, then people get what they collectively deserve. If they vote libdem because of lies, they do not deserve the outcome when they are betrayed. I know I’m pretty much stating the obvious, but we really do need a recall mechanism to kick out people who do not serve us well, without having to wait their whole term.

During the general election campaign I did think about how I would vote if we had an AV system (which many of us are familiar and happy with from other spheres such as union elections). It occurred to me that despite that I don’t favour most of the tory policies, I would rank them higher than labour because my experience of labour shows they can not be trusted to deliver what they say and in the end the dishonesty has to put them at the bottom of the pile. I would have put libdem somewhere near the top because of their education policies, but not anymore! As it is I voted independent as a protest because I didn’t think any of them were much good. I agree with John Francis’ statement (non-question).

So how does this relate to the leader questions? Well the tactic used by Mervin Smith, as labour, is not too far different from that used by traitors such as Clegg and Cable.

On my question about Mervin Smith’s election leaflets, I just don’t buy the perpetual excuse that changing the bsf program details could jeopardise all the funding. Details have been changed throughout and this excuse was used well before the election period. If labour actually believed it could not be changed they should not have campaigned on the basis of saying they would change it. I don’t buy that Mervin Smith and Tristram Hunt did their utmost to prevent the closure of Mitchell one bit. Last I heard Tristram didn’t sign the petition, if he wishes to say he has since then he can. I saw Mervin at one CSAG meeting after the election then never saw him at any other. It is possible he could have gone to one that I didn’t get to, but I have not heard this. It is all very well his cosying up to Vernon Coaker but labour never did anything useful, it was just a photo-op on Mervin’s part for his election leaflets. They probably figured they didn’t need to do anything; they could just blame it on the tories after the election. They all pass the buck. Since the election I wrote to Michael Gove suggesting he could save bsf money by scrapping the academy planned for Willfield and refurbishing Mitchell and Edensor at far less cost instead. One of his minions wrote back to me passing the buck to PfS, they wrote to me passing the buck to SOT City Council. They said “I understand your views in relation to the building of the Discovery Academy as opposed to Mitchell and Edensor schools. However, the local authority did not select these two schools to be involved in the BSF programme. I would therefore suggest you raise your concerns with Stoke-on-Trent City Council.” So Labour have no excuse, they can decide to refurb Mitchell and Edensor and leave current facilities at Willfield alone.

Also Mohammed Pervez refers to the feasibility study, but this is flawed and inconsistent with another quote from Mervin Smith; “EVERYONE was united in wanting the 2 school solution: a school on the Mitchell site and one for the Longton community.” However the feasibility study insists on only one school to replace Mitchell and Edensor and refused from the outset to consider the two school solution. In fact the prime reason the study rejects the Mitchell and Edensor sites is because of accessibility of each for pupils from the other area because they are so far apart. The two school solution that Mervin was trumpeting would have solved this and avoided using Willfield. So Mohammed Pervez can not lean on this feasibility study. Mervin blames Ian Mitchell and Ross Irving “if you want to keep our school local, bombard Cllr Ian Mitchell, Education Chief, and Council Leader Ross Irving with a simple message: LET OUR COMMUNITY KEEP ITS SCHOOL!” (Capitals in red on his leaflet.) As if labour wasn’t in on the collusion to close Mitchell also!

Mohammed Pervez would like a copy of Mervin’s leaflets. I have happily sent him scans of the relevant pages he requested, although as I got the impression he was close to Mark Meredith and if the labour group were working together, I would have thought he would already have seen it or be able to easily obtain it from Mervin.

On Dimensions, I agree with Mark H but Mohammed Pervez does have a point if he has data that indicate that price increases don’t deter people. Prices for swimming certainly influence me though, I have chosen between Fenton and Jubilee depending on price as they have varied and when Jubilee has been cheapest I have gone on a Sunday to avoid a parking charge. Perhaps I’m just a miser. I expect he also has a point about socialist based discounts, I don’t qualify although I did look into it for young people and found it less than transparent as to what the price reductions are.

It can be noted that I am “Ëœfree speech’ and “Ëœcsag member’. I had no particular wish to be anonymous in the discussion but when half an hour had passed and my first question hadn’t been answered at that stage, I thought it may had scuppered my chance to ask anything else so experimented with other names. But it was possibly the case that a question about the press department had to go to the press department, causing a delay. I asked not just about “ËœOur City’ but about other glossy publications such as governors’ gazette, I still think much could and should be saved here, especially when much more important aspects of children’s services face the axe. I agree with Sharon, I find much of the PR is propaganda and could be cut.

When I asked how much is it costing the council, out of non-bsf funds, to do the alterations on Dividy Road by the Anchor Road roundabout, in order to put an academy on Willfield that is not wanted there, I didn’t mean work on the roundabout itself. I was thinking in particular of the pavement being built on the stretch of Dividy Road between the roundabout at Anchor Road and the next roundabout along at Beverley Drive. Now it could be that this is not being assigned in relation to the academy but the money must be coming from somewhere. And my question applies more generally because the documents relating to the academy do identify a number of road and pedestrian improvements needed outwith the Willfield site to facilitate use of that site. So I would like to know how much all of these are costing out of non-bsf funds? I can’t believe it can be nothing. Unless of course you indulge in some clever accounting and assign the things to different pots of money, which looks a bit suspicious when they are mentioned in the academy documents.

On the difficulties the Bentilee volunteers face, if the academy on Willfield does go ahead, I hope the difficulties are sorted out, but I have little faith they will be satisfactorily.

I am glad the 6th form college has now seen sense on parking for parents at events, although I have not since then needed to attend anything there. I was annoyed that parking was not made available to transport students to their start of the year interviews except at Fenton, for which a charge is now planned. Even better than parking would have been to make the annual bus pass, that I shell out a good £300 for, valid for this date onward rather than after this date! To pay a bus fare in addition to this for the interview was just an insult too far.

I asked another question that I have now emailed in as requested: What is the projected loss in revenue from the cafe, shop, donations box, workshops and car parking at the Potteries Museum resulting from fewer attending when the entrance fee comes in and how does this compare with the projected income from entrance fees? You see I like the current set up of free admission, I think it allows the freedom to pop in and is very inclusive and accessible. This is indicative of the sort of society I think it is good to live in. To lose that is bad enough but even worse without seeing evidence of the financial case for it.

Rant over I think, what do you think we should do with politicians who betray us? Phil Woolas lied on his election leaflets and had his election win overturned because of it. That was at least justice of the sort we need more of I think.

Is Stoke-on-Trent College in a fit state to become an academy sponsor?

Stoke-on-Trent College is in dire financial straits. The Sentinel reports that the college finished last year £4.8 million in debt! The Skills Funding Agency has served the college with a financial notice to improve and is to monitor them regularly. The college plans a rapid restructuring to reduce its staffing budget by £4 million; 170 staff are at risk whilst only 60 have volunteered for redundancy. Jeff Kent of the University and College Union is quoted in the Sentinel as saying “the college has been appallingly financially managed in the past”.

Stoke-on-Trent College is the proposed sponsor for the contraversial academy school which the council cabinet wants to impose as a merger of Mitchell and Edensor high schools, on a currently unknown site since we so resoundingly defeated the planning application to use green space in Adderley Green.

The question is, how can this college, which is struggling to cope with its own problems, possibly be in a position to take on sponsoring an academy?

The merger of two schools so far apart is madness in any case. A merger of Mitchell and Berry Hill makes more sense.

Furthermore the Community Schools Action Group does not want an academy. A community schoool or a foundation school is favoured instead.

There are so many pointers now that this Stoke-on-Trent College sponsored academy is simply not feasible.

What do you think?

Vernon Coaker says it again ““ council could give us 15 high schools in Stoke-on-Trent!

On Tuesday 23rd February Stoke-on-Trent MPs Mark Fisher and Rob Flello met with schools minister Vernon Coaker, who reiterated a previous statement that a two school solution, instead of the currently planned merger of Mitchell and Edensor, would be completely acceptable, provided that it came within the £25 million remaining for this. However he said this can not be imposed by government. A request for this two school solution will have to come from the council. He also confirmed, in very strong terms, that he told Ross Irving exactly the same as he told the media and the Community Schools Action Group (CSAG) about a possible two school solution.

Mark Fisher accuses Stoke-on-Trent council leader Ross Irving of telling a “barefaced lie” about obeying orders. Ross Irving is maintaining a stance that Mitchell and Edensor should be replaced by a single school. Government are clearly not ordering him to do this. Is he taking orders from officers? Is he not supposed to be a leader, able to think about an elegant two school solution? He and his cabinet do not even have a site for a single school. Two schools would be better for all the communities involved and would be in line with his own conservative party’s policy for schools of less than 1000 pupils.

What will it take for our council leader and cabinet to see sense?

The background to this is that following a crazy SERCO plan to merge two schools 5 miles apart, Mitchell and Edensor, rather than the obvious community centred approach of merging Mitchell and Berry Hill, less than a mile apart, CSAG has being doing battle with the council cabinet to get a better decision made.

As well as MPs Mark Fisher and Rob Flello, many ordinary councillors also agree with CSAG, including Steve Batkin, Rita Dale, John Davis and Adrian Knapper who are actively involved.

The council’s own Children and Young People’s Overview and Scrutiny Committee have recommended that Mitchell and Berry Hill should merge on the Mitchell site. The most recent recommendation on December 16th has still not been minuted or considered by the cabinet. That meeting also examined the bizarre selection of the Adderley Green site for a school, vehemently opposed by the “ËœSpringfield’ action group, after at failed a feasibility study. This site has been rejected by the council’s Development Management Committee.

Vernon Coaker’s visit to Stoke-on-Trent included the Mitchell High site which CSAG wants to retain for a High School as it is in the heart of the community it serves. Vernon Coaker met with CSAG and listened to their concerns. He told the Sentinel he did not rule out the possibility of keeping an extra secondary school. He passed the community views on to the council leader.
However he too it seems was ignored by Ross Irving and Children and Young People’s portfolio holder Ian Mitchell.

Pat Smith, chair of governors at Mitchell, reported on the subsequent meeting of CSAG with Ross Irving and Ian Mitchell in a letter to the Sentinel. She describes them as patronising and dismissive and Ian Mitchell as showing antagonism and viciously attacking the Mitchell Business and Enterprise College.

It is obvious that the Mitchell site should continue to be used for a community based high school. An additional school in the Longton area would fulfill the needs of the communities served by Edensor.

CYPO&S on Adderley Green

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$$ADocPackPublic.pdf

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

BSF call-in 11th August 2009

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:
· An assurance of the number of stories in the planned building being 2 then subsequently increasing to 3 then 4.
· 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.
· A claim that letters from residents to planning protested about wasted funds on bsf, whereas the letters actually refer to government criticism of this.
· 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.
· 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.
· The report says the route is generally satisfactory, but huge problems with pavements have already been pointed out.
· 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.
· 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.
· A meeting at Bentilee Neighbourhood Centre where a show of hands rejected the Berry Hill / St. Peter’s merger was not well reported.
· 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.
· 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.

BSF call-in 11th August 2009

By Nicky Davis

At the cabinet meeting of 22nd July cabinet approved proposals to close 7 High Schools: Berry Hill, Blurton, Brownhills, Edensor, James Brindley, Mitchell and St. Peter’s, in order to set up 5 academies.

This decision was called in by councillors John Davis, Peter Kent-Baguley and Alan Rigby and referred to the Children and Young People’s Overview and Scrutiny Committee which considered it today (11th August).

Councillor committee members present were Mike Coleman (chair), Ann James (vice-chair), Rita Dale, Margaret Pyatt and Ellie Walker.

Councillor committee members absent were Zulfiqar Ali, Mark Davis, Roger Ibbs, Geoff Knight and Tom Reynolds.

Also present at the meeting were Wilfred Stanforth (parent governor representative), Rev. David Lingwood (church representative), Suzanne Hackley (secretary), Mandy Pattinson (overview and scrutiny officer}, Paul Hackney (legal representative), Tracy Penrose (BSF officer), Mr Tootill (CYP services representative), Mr Sewel (press officer), Councillor Ian Mitchell (CYP portfolio holder) and Councillors John Davis and Alan Rigby for the call-in.
(Apologies for any incorrect spellings.)

John Davis explained the reasons for the call-in, starting by saying how passionately he feels about the issue.  He read a letter from Mark Fisher MP regarding Mitchell and Berry Hill High Schools that had been circulated to the meeting and public observers.  Mark Fisher’s concerns were (in brief):

1. Lack of consultation:
The Park Hall site had been rejected by pupils, parents and governors since November 2007 at which time the SERCO representative did not even know where it was.  The wrongly names “ËœSpriingfield’ site, which is actually Adderley Green had first been mentioned only a few weeks ago.

2. Accessibility:
Park Hall is 2.5 miles from Mitchell along roads with bad traffic accident histories and “ËœSpringfield’ is further.  Neither site would attract pupils to stay for after school activities which are so important for a well rounded education.

3. Background:
Mitchell and Berry Hill High Schools volunteered to merge with each other on the Mitchell site, contrary to the SERCO proposals.

4. Impact:
If a new school is sited at Park Hall or “ËœSpringfields’ there will be only two High Schools in the Stoke-on-Trent Central constituency.  The Secretary of State has been unable to identify another UK constituency with only two High Schools.  Communities will be left without a school and parents may send their children outside the city.  The proposed sites do not fulfil the original consultation ambition of schools serving and sited in their communities.

5. Cost:
SERCO had not provided promised costings for Park Hall.  The Secretary of State has made it clear that BSF funding is secure despite rumours to the contrary.

John said SERCO had never explained why they ignored the common sense suggestion by Mitchell and Berry Hill to merge with each other on Mitchell.  He said threats of loss of BSF funding have been used to put pressure on councillors whereas government have not insisted on a particular number of academy schools or specific sites.  There is no reason for common sense not to prevail.

John then went through the SERCO report illustrating cases where it emphasised aspects to justify the proposals and tones down or omits objections.  He also pointed out statements which are good objectives but would not necessarily be achieved by the SERCO proposals and can be achieved by the alternative proposal.  One such example is giving young people a sense of ownership, confidence and investment in their future.  He pointed out the SERCO proposals are the reverse of this as building on a site outside communities works against a sense of ownership.

John told us of a phrase his mother had used to describe him as a child which he considered could be applied to SERCO ““ “as crafty as a cart load of monkeys”.  Now perhaps I shouldn’t be reproducing this quote but I do so love some of the gems John comes out with!  (Please let it be a pits’n’pots random quote.)  I will balance this by reporting that Mike Coleman as chair did strongly reprimand John for this, telling him off for “lowering the tone” of the meeting.

Mr Tootill responded for SERCO.  He went through the reasons for the call-in one by one as follows:

1. “That a petition of 537 names delivered to the Civic Centre on 3/7/09 was not dealt with in a proper manner.”
Mr Tootill explained that the petition against the Park Hall site was dated 3rd July, but the statutory consultation period had ended 29th June.  (Paul Hackney confirmed the deadline had to be adhered to.)  Mrs Lowe the lead petitioner had been contacted to thank her for her comments which would be fed into the planning process.  The petition had been addressed to the BSF team so was delayed too late for the July full council meeting but would go to full council on 1st October.  Ann James requested that departments should send all petitions to democratic services so they will reach full council.

2. “That a vote of no confidence taken at a meeting to consult with Berry Hill and St. Peter’s stakeholders was not recorded or taken into account.”
Mr Tootill reading the meeting notes showed they did in fact state that a member of the audience has said a majority had concerns and there was a show of hands.  Mike Coleman referred to Mark Fisher’s letter which stated that when Barry Stockley queried the “Ëœomission’ Tracy Penrose apologised and said it must have been overlooked.  Tracy Penrose stated that the meeting notes were not intended to be verbatim and her normal practice is to apologise.  Ann James commented that it is important to start minuting meeting properly.  Mike Coleman asked how the show of hands opposing the proposals was made available to council.  Tracy Penrose explained that the meeting notes were put on the council web site available to all, put in the file of information considered before issuing the statutory notices, made available to councillors in the members room and copies were present at the 22nd July cabinet meeting.  Rev Lingwood stated that St. Peter’s governors are in favour of the proposals.

3. “That the governors of Mitchell High were misled into voting for an expression of interest and that two caveats would be attached and copies sent to all governors which has not been done.”
Mr Tootill said governors had elected for a two stage process, first a “Ëœno’ vote which 2 governors supported then a “Ëœyes’ vote but adding caveats which 7 governors supported.  3 abstained out of the 12 governors present.  Governors had been told they must vote for the EoI first then add the caveats afterwards.  So the vote was for the EoI with 3 caveats
“¢Ã‚ Ã‚ Ã‚  Preferred site is Mitchell site ““ unanimous.
“¢Ã‚ Ã‚ Ã‚  Provision of other services at the school should be subject to consultation – unanimous.
“¢Ã‚ Ã‚ Ã‚  Mitchell and Berry Hill should be the predecessor schools ““ 7 for, 5 abstained.
The minutes had been sent to the head teacher and chair of governors for checking and would be circulated by 16th September, 2 weeks prior to the next meeting according to due process.  John Davis said he wanted the EoI and caveats circulated to governors right away.  Ann James was concerned that without the minutes they were only hearing accounts of officers and wanted to hear from the chair of governors as she was there.  Mike Coleman was concerned this was outside the meeting protocol.  Paul Hackney suggested not to depart from this but as the committee was in agreement with hearing from her she was allowed to speak.  Pat Smith said Mitchell governors had voted against taking the school out of the community and did not favour a merger with Edensor but there were worries that staff jobs may be at risk if they disagreed with the proposals.  John Davis and Ann James were both concerned that the vote for the EoI may be interpreted by government as being in favour of the proposals but governors were not in fact in favour without the caveats.

4. “Generally during consultations officers have been selective in what they have recorded which ahs discouraged people from taking part as they believed no notice of their opinions was being taken.”
Mr Tootill couldn’t see evidence for this.  John Davis pointed out he had already gone through the report and highlighted examples.  He felt it was an unequal fight as officers are better placed than the public.  He said Trentham had had a long and difficult battle even though they tend to be “Ëœprofessional/affluent’.

There were then general comments from committee members and from other councillors observing with permission from the committee.

Rita Dale: Why do we have to move the school?
Ann James: We don’t need to delay other schools progress if we go ahead with alternative proposals for a few.
Adrian Knapper: The consultations were not held locally enough.  The proposals are inconsistent with regeneration plans to build housing in the city centre at Waterside.  A consideration when buying a house is where the children go to school.
Alan Rigby:  His children and grandchildren have had quality schools within walking distance.  Every child counts and he wants every parent and grandparent to have what he’s had.  He thanked Mark Fisher for his letter and said we should do the job right and merge the two schools on the Mitchell site in the centre of the community.
Steve Batkin: Terry Crowe, a governor at Berry Hill said that Tracy Penrose said the Berry Hill case was stronger than for Trentham.  Steve himself is a governor at Mitchell.  There had been a vote previous to the one discussed at this meeting which was 13 to 1 for the Mitchell site.  What is the point of a governing body if nobody listens?


1. Rita Dale proposed a recommendation to change the decision to link Berry Hill and Mitchell on the Mitchell site.

Ian Mitchell said 5 schools would be affected; Berry Hill, Mitchell, St. Peter’s Edensor and Blurton.  This should be considered.
John Davis proposed that Edensor links with Blurton giving substantial pupil numbers to form a good academy.  St. Peter’s as a faith school could draw from a wide area on a faith basis.
Mike Coleman said he is a believer in community schools as important in his own values and personally he will vote to support the recommendation, although clearly others are free to vote as they wish.

The recommendation was passed by 4 votes to 2.  (I did not clearly see the show of hands from where I was sitting and maybe one councillor had slipped out so I shall not give names as I am not certain of them.)

2. Ann James proposed a recommendation that all departments should be reminded of the procedure for petitions and the public should also be made aware.  This was passed.

Note ““ if you wish a petition to be considered at a full council meeting, address it to “Ëœdemocratic services‘.

John Davis commented that the cal-in procedure is excellent but if officers took notice of councillors and others there would be less need for call-ins.  He then thanked the chair and committee for their consideration.

Mike Coleman stated that the recommendation would go to cabinet tomorrow (12th August):

That the Committee request the Cabinet to consider amending its decision about linking Mitchell High School with Edensor High School and to instead join Berryhill High School and Mitchell High School to form a new community school to be located on the Mitchell High School site.

March for a Community School at Bucknall

By Pits’n’Pots Reporter.

Adrian Knapper - Deputy Labour Group Leader

Adrian Knapper - Deputy Labour Group Leader

Deputy Leader of the Labour Group, Councillor Adrian Knapper will be waving off a protest march on Sunday 12th July 2009 that is being organised by residents of Bucknall, Bentilee, Berryhill, Townsend and Eaton Park who aim to highlight their concerns over the City Councils plans to build a new School to replace Mitchell High outside of the local community at the outer edge of the area at Parkhall or at Springfield’s off Anchor Road that is even further away.

Councillor Knapper said “Residents want a new secondary school to be located within the community at Bucknall.”

“During my time on the EMB, I have always been on record that the Parkhall was the wrong site and I am still concerned that revised plans been presented to the public by SERCO, will result in no community secondary school to be located that serves the neighbourhoods  around Bucknall and the regeneration area of City Waterside.”

“The plans will result in a doughnut effect of children within the central part of Stoke-on-Trent having to travel outwards to remote areas to gain an education and their will be no provision of out of school time activities within the local area.”

The march will start at 1pm from the Parkhall Golf Course, Hulme Lane and will progress down Dividy Road and end outside the Mitchell School, it will be joined by many concerned residents of the area, local city councillors and its hope that Mark Fisher MP will be able in attendance.

The aim of the march is to highlight that local residents want a new community school to replace Berryhill High and Mitchell High upon the Mitchell Site that is within the heart of the community.

Now that Trentham High has won its right to remain open, the executive of the City Council needs to get on and build new schools especially at James Brindley. But action needs to take place to ensure investment is given to Trentham and that a solution is brought forward around Edensor/Blurton and Mitchell/Berryhill to delivery new community schools.

MP wants cap on headteacher spending

By Pits’n’Pots Reporter.

Rob Flello MP

Rob Flello MP

Stoke on Trent South MP Rob Flello is calling for an investigation into the amount a head teacher can spend under delegated responsibility from school governing bodies.

He has called on schools minister Jim Knight and Stoke on Trent interim council manager Chris Harmon to look into the matter following his own initial inquiries.

The call comes after an investigation carried out by Elected Mayor Mark Meredith showed that Edensor High Headteacher had the authority to spend up to £100,000 after governors had signed over the power to take financial decisions worth up to £100,000.

There was a national outcry about the schools planned staff training trip to the Spanish resort of Marbella costing in the region of £30,000.

The trip was eventually canceled on the day of departure after media coverage meant that the staff would not be able to partake fully.

Speaking in today’s Sentinel Mr Flello said: “I have made initial inquiries with other governing bodies and the reaction to this amount of delegated spending is one of surprise. In my experience as a chair of governors on a number of bodies, I would never dream of delegating that level of authority to a headteacher.

“I have known governors to delegate spending of £3,000 to £5,000, but that is very different to the figures being talked about here.

“I am taking this very seriously. The first question is, is it true this amount was delegated? The second is, if so, is that legitimate?

“If schools are able to do this, I will be asking the Schools Minister to look at whether the rules should be changed and a cap introduced.”

Edensor High Head Mr Richard Mercer denied that the school acted incorrectly, he said: “Working with the governing body, the school follows the financial guidelines laid down by the local authority.”

Don Evans who resigned as a LA Governor over the issue said is also asking for further investigation, he said:

“Only those governors that sat on the finance sub-committee were aware that the headteacher had been given approval by them to spend up to £100,000 without referral.”

This story caused a massive outcry when it broke. What do you think about a call for an investigation?

Read the Sentinel story here.


According to today’s Sentinel (click here), Edensor governors are calling for Mr Mercer the Headteacher to be suspended, following the Marbella training trip incident. It seems that a group of seven governors were kept in the dark about the trip, and have taken steps to find out more about what actually went on, and how the trip came to be approved.

One governor has resigned, and apparently he says governors have been lambasted in the press and in the community, and he’s even been in restaurants and people have come up to ask if the school was paying for the meal. He says these seven governors want to clear their names, and make it clear that they did not approve this trip, and did not know about it before it was booked.

Now, those of you who are regular visitors to this blog will know that Tony and myself are both governors at another high school in South Stoke, and at the time this trip was made public, we asked the Elected Mayor for an inquiry. This was reported in the Sentinel, and we were publicly attacked by an ex-education official for this. The Elected Mayor replied that this was a “matter for the school governors”.

As a fellow governor, I feel very sorry for these governors who, whilst trying to carry out their public duty, now find themselves in the unenviable position of seeming to be either culpable or incompetent. I do not believe they are/were either. As reported in the Sentinel article, Mr Mercer did not turn up to the governors meeting, and the Chair of Governors refused to answer questions. How are the governors supposed to work under these circumstances? How can the Local Authority expect people to give up their time voluntarily to take up posts as Governors, when the governors are then left open to criticism in this way, because of the actions of a Head and Chair?

There are comments on the Sentinel website suggesting that to suspend Mr Mercer is a waste of money, and that he and the Chair of Governors should both be sacked. What are your thoughts on this?

The ex education official suggests that Tony & I have a vendetta against Edensor. We are merely asking how the Chair and Headteacher have been allowed to arrange this trip? Why are they not now answering the questions being raised by these seven governors? When will they be held to account? Your thoughts please…