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 Ian asked about the financial implications, since an application for Penkhull had been withdrawn for fear of cost liability.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?

SOT Central – Candidates and Schools

I wrote the story “SOT Central Parliamentary Candidates Speak to CSAG” as impartially as I could, to be fair to the candidates. But here in this blog I will give you my views. If you don’t care to know then don’t read on.

There has been much talk about one aspect of the meeting and precious little about the rest, so I’ll deal with that one first. In the childlike squabble”¦ “Ëœshe started it’. Norsheen said “there is nothing British about the BNP”, which is a bit of a daft statement seeing as most members of the British National Party are British. However it was just one quite ordinary example of political sparring. Simon Darby’s response “I’m more British than you are” was way out of line because it made it personal in a way that had nothing to do with politics, policy or even personality. He should not have said that.

I am glad that so many candidates took an interest in the plight of Mitchell and Berry Hill high schools. It was good that those who attended could come and I don’t blame those who couldn’t make it.

Carol Lovatt however I do think is a complete waste of space. I have a theory about UKIP. I think they are experimenting with Stoke-on-Trent to see how many votes they can get by doing b*gger all. But anyone wanting to vote far right would be better off with the British National Party because they would be more likely to actually do something.

John Redfern is pathetic, unwilling to turn up just because Simon Darby was there. A pretty non-liberal approach from a liberal I think.

Simon Darby, Norsheen Bhatti and Tristram Hunt are the most parachuted candidates, the first two fighting hard for the seat for the short term and Tristram, unless there is a huge swing, likely to win it so preparing for the long term.

In terms of long term passion and commitment to the area and the schools, Gary Elsby comes out top and spoke out very well for the CSAG cause at the meeting. Alby Walker has also been supportive of communities over BSF whilst in the British National Party, although he is more of an unknown quantity now he seems to want to have a go at them at any opportunity. I don’t understand what they did to p*ss him off so much. But I do believe he is likely to remain supportive of the CSAG case.

Norsheen Bhatti appears to be a caring personality taking a real interest although a little out of her depth on the issues. There is little of substance there, possibly because she has Conservative policies to deal with. She also perpetuates the Conservative mistake of the party leadership not being interested in what it’s councillors are doing locally. She does not want to tackle Ross Irving. They never learned, we moaned to the tories about Roger Ibbs over Trentham High. They didn’t care, now they have lost their tory stonghold from Trentham. Norsheen seems to like the party political sparring aspect of things and I think would really like to spend her time having a go at political opponents in parliament. That doesn’t interest me that much as I’m more interested in issues than party politics and competitiveness.

Brian Ward was really hard to fathom. He was difficult to pin down and often contradictory ““ it has already been decided ““ the decision isn’t made yet / I won’t make false promises ““ if elected I will get the school on Mitchell. He had been willing to turn up, as he had before, brave for someone on Ross Irving’s cabinet, but did not really seem to have got to grips with the issues. I understand he is chasing up the current situation though. Good luck to him, I’m getting nowhere with communications with

The candidates with the best understanding of what this government is playing at with BSF and the disastrous consequences for education are Matt Wright and Simon Darby. It is shameful privatisation of the education system for the benefit of the likes of serco to the detriment of the children involved. Others who attended the meeting who showed particular insight in my view are Pat Smith, John Davis and Mick Stone. Dawn Kelly is spot on about the affect of the threat on the schools. I really liked Andy Bentley’s ideas on council strategy.

I don’t vote in SOT Central. At the last general election I remember talking to a Socialist candidate in Stoke, I had to tell him I liked a lot of his ideas but couldn’t vote Socialist as the option wasn’t available to me in SOT South. The ideals are good although the practicalities are difficult. I still don’t have the Socialist option in SOT South. I’ve been doing these online surveys and they’re telling me to vote Green but I don’t have that option either ““ although I’d be too bolshie to let a computer tell me how to vote in any case. Based solely on what I thought of the candidates from their stance on this schools issue, if I had to vote on it I’d pick the Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition. I sometimes get accused of being far right or far left. I guess this is one of the far left moments.

Of course all the candidates support us on the schools issue. After the election most will disappear. Our next step will need to be to address the next stage of the BroadwayMalyan “Ëœinsultation’.

Labour campaign in Bentilee ““ an outrage!

Mervin Smith’s election leaflet, promoted by Mark Meredith, claims after all this time that labour locally want a school on the Mitchell site and another for Longton. After all these years driving forward plans to bulldoze Mitchell High School, Labour at the last minute change their tune in a desperate bid for support.

Nobody has been more of a disaster with their “Ëœbulldozing schools for the future’ plans than Labour’s Mark Meredith and his supporters. He has arrogantly gone round the city, claiming to listen but giving Labour political speeches about how it is best for education to rip schools out of communities in favour of imposed academies. Mark Meredith’s Labour, continuing after he was kicked out, do not deserve to win an election in the city. They will do the city no good, their track record says it all.

Mervin Smith’s leaflet says to bombard council leader Ross Irving with the message “let our community keep its school”. Fine, but who voted for Tory Ross Irving to be council leader? Labour did! Yes it’s true, they really did. Labour set up the Tories so that after years of failure under Labour leadership they could blame the Tories just before an election. And Ross Irving is daft enough to fall for it ““ if he had any sense he would do as Labour are claiming they now request and give us a school on Mitchell and another in Longton – but I won’t hold my breath.

Mervin Smith says about Mitchell “I’m proud to be a governor of the school” So Mervin, are you going to tell us what you have really done as governor? Did you support a ridiculous merger of Mitchell with Edensor miles away? Did you support the destruction of the current schools with no replacement on the Mitchell site? Did you support it being taken over by an academy with sponsor dominance over parents on the governing body? Go on, admit it, tell us what you have really done for Mitchell.

The leaflet says “Labour’s Mervin Smith ““ on your side”. Don’t believe a word of it! The council’s Labour group screw over communities then just before an election pathetically say they have not listened enough but will now. No ““ LABOUR CAN NOT BE TRUSTED!

If the folk of Bentilee and Townsend want to be conned over a few weeks before an election and face the prospect of further betrayal afterwards, then they can vote Labour.

Happily though they have better alternatives, people who have consistently supported the community and to keep a high school on the Mitchell site. People who care about the area all the time, not just at election time.

Independents Wendy Booth and Margaret Lowe are standing for election. Both live in Bentilee, care about the community widely and have been campaigning vigourously in the Community Schools Action Group for a school on Mitchell (I have never seen Mervin Smith at a CSAG meeting). Residents will remember Wendy Booth declaring at a public meeting at Mitchell that she would stand for council and Margaret Lowe, chair of the action group, is also standing. They deserve the local vote, Mervin Smith does not. Current councillor Phil Sandland, standing again, has also shown way more support for the school and has a track record in the community.

This Labour leaflet, for Mervin Smith, promoted by Mark Meredith, is truly shameful.


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.

Press Statement From The Community Schools Action Group

Community School Action Group Press Statement

Following an encouraging meeting with Education Minister, Vernon Coaker yesterday, five members of the Community School Action Group, Margaret Lowe(Chair), Pat Smith (Head of Governors, Mitchell High School), Terry Crowe (Head of Governors, Berry Hill High School), Mick Stone (parent of Mitchell High School) and Graham Lowe (member of the group)) met with Cllr Ross Irving and Cllr Ian Mitchell with a view to trying to resolve their differences over the siting of the 20:20 Discovery Academy.

The Community School Action Group offered the solution of an academy in the Longton area, to serve Longton, Adderley Green, Weston Coyney and Meir, whilst asking for a refurbishment of Mitchell High School to enable it to
merge with Berry Hill High School, only a mile away, instead of Edensor High School and Technology College.

This was not accepted by the Council Leader, who insisted that this would ‘put the whole BSF programme back 18 months’ and they would have to “Ëœreconsult on the whole programme’.

Yet, Minister Vernon Coaker yesterday suggested that the council proceed without delay, with the academies which were unopposed. The Council Leader stated that this would not be possible without delaying the whole project.

The Council Leader also stated that the Minister had said during his talks with him, that the only issue yet to be resolved is the site for the 20:20 Discovery Academy and that he had stated that the suggestion of an extra
school would not be considered.

However, during talks with the Minister, the Community School Action Group felt that the Minister was very responsive to the idea of a new academy in the Longton area and a refurbishment of Mitchell High School. The Minister also stated in an interview with the “ËœSentinel’ that he “did not rule out the possibility of keeping an extra secondary school”.

The Council Leader did offer a glimmer of hope in that they would “Ëœat great expense’ carry out feasibility studies on all the sites being considered, namely: Springfield, Mossfield, Willfield, Park Hall and Mitchell High

Mitchell High School has never been included in the feasibility study previously. The Community School Action Group, while feeling this was a step in the right direction, were disappointed to be told that the
feasibility study would be carried out by the Project Director of the Building Schools for the Future project, who has admitted to “Ëœforgetting’ to record the result of a vital vote in the minutes of a meeting, and not
carried out by an independent body, as they requested.

The Community School Action Group are now looking into further studies being undertaken to ensure that the feasibility study by the City Council is carried out and reported on fairly.

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.

Weekend Comment – “ËœMayor Quimby’ should go!

Comment by Nicky Davis

I would love to know who invented the name “ËœSpringfield’ for the site in Adderley Green at Short Bambury Street where SERCO and the council leader and cabinet all of a sudden want to put a school.  This faces huge local opposition with the formation of the Springfield Action Group.  The Adderley Green community do not want a school there!  I expect the planning application (number 50070) will receive some negative responses.

Meanwhile the Community School Action Group for Mitchell and Berry Hill schools are constructively campaigning for a school on a site where it is actually very much wanted, the Mitchell High School site in the heart of their community.  The very obvious solution to this is of course to satisfy both groups and to site a school where it is wanted rather than where it isn’t wanted, but mayor Quimby and his sidekicks have some trouble seeing this.

We have the NIMBYs and the YIMBYs (yes in my back yard) but QUIMBY won’t listen!

From the word go, the communities of Berry Hill, Townsend and Bentilee, which are currently served by two high schools, have sensibly and cooperatively suggested a merger of Berry Hill and Mitchell high schools to give them one new build school on the Mitchell site.  They have been persistently ignored, by the former mayor and his board, by SERCO and by the current leader and cabinet.

The myth is perpetuated that central government restricts the number of schools allowed and demands a certain number of academies, but ministers and Partnerships for Schools insist this is not the case.  Mayor Quimby can not reference a document which states any facts to back up this case.

Ripping the two schools out of the community would leave no high schools over a wide area of the centre of the city flanked by Birches Head High School to the North and St. Peter’s High School (new site) to the South.  The bizarre argument has been made that Mitchell and Berry Hill must go because of the close proximity of Birches Head and Holden Lane high schools.  What to eachother?  Or to the communities to be deprived of a high school?  Birches Head and Holden Lane are 1.0 (0.5) miles apart (walking distance quoted with straight line distance in brackets).  Birches Head and Mitchell are 2.0 (1.4) miles apart.  Birches Head and Berry Hill are 2.6 (1.6) miles apart.  So the Birches Head and Sneyd Green communities get to keep two high schools in close proximity (which I am not at all suggesting they shouldn’t) whilst the Berry Hill, Townsend and Bentilee communities have to drop from two high schools to zero!  Dropping from two to one as they suggested seems far more sensible.

Examining SERCO’s Strategy for Change Part 1 (as they have not yet seen fit to publish Part 2) reveals that “Ëœcurrent’ (January 2008) pupil numbers are 605 for Berry Hill and 581 for Mitchell, totalling 1186.  The plans are for Holden Lane to have a capacity of 1050, for 1058 pupils.  It can therefore be concluded there is no spare space at Holden Lane.  The plans are for Birches Head to have a capacity of 900.  As there are currently 742 pupils this means 158 places are available at Birches Head.  OK so 158 of the Berry Hill and Mitchell pupils could go there (leaving aside travel difficulties), but what about the other 1028?  So that’s that red herring dealt with.

SERCO’s plans are that Berry Hill should be served by St. Peter’s academy.  Adding Berry Hill’s pupils to the 704 at St. Peter’s gives 1309.  The plan is for the new St. Peter’s to have 1200 places.  So there are 109 places too few.  I know there will be a commitment to shoehorn in all pupils from the predecessor schools who want to go to the new school, but there is no commitment for ongoing service to the community, so younger pupils could face difficulties.  Furthermore it is admitted that St. Peter’s could fill their new academy without needing to take pupils from Berry Hill at all.

SERCO’s plans are that Mitchell and Edensor should be served by the 20:20 Discovery academy in “ËœSpringfield’.  Adding Mitchell’s pupils to the 1029 at Edensor gives 1610.  The plan is for the new 20:20 Discovery academy to have 1200 places.  So there are 410 places too few.  The same argument regarding  predecessor schools applies.

Someone is bound to point out that I am comparing current pupil numbers with planned school places, which is a fair point.  The Strategy for Change Part 1 says that there are currently (January 2008) 13,113 pupils in Stoke-on-Trent, that this will decline to 11,790 by 2013/14, around the time the new schools will be completed, but also that this will rise to 14,642 by 2019/20.  So as a rough guide if I assume the initial fall is in the same proportion across the city, then only 734 pupils from Mitchell and Berry Hill couldn’t get in to spare places in Birches Head and Holden Lane on that red herring.  Or only 225 couldn’t get in to St. Peter’s or the 20:20 Discovery academy.  So that makes it a whole lot better then?  Needless to say if I look ahead to 2019/20 it gets a whole lot worse.  The Strategy for Change Part 1 plans 13,050 high school places for 14,642 pupils by then.  Of course that was written before the decision to retain Trentham High.  My best estimate of the current situation is that SERCO are now planning about 13,820 high school places, but because of lack of up do date information and some inconsistent information this may actually be inaccurate by about 300 pupils either way.  So I’m estimating an under-provision by 2019/20 of ~822, but in the best case this may be only ~522.

Getting back to the situation the Berry Hill, Townsend and Bentilee communities would find themselves in, within a large triangle flanked by high schools outside their community at Birches Head, Fenton and Adderley Green.  Ordinarily, in the good old days when schools were nestled in their communities, it would be expected that distance to school would and should be important in the list of admissions criteria.  This is perfectly reasonable, a school should be providing a service to its local residents as a high priority but may spread its intake wider if it has available places.  So if distance to school remains important does this not mean that the residents of Townsend in particular will be way down on all the “Ëœtriangle’ schools priority lists?  How fair is that?  I would suggest not at all fair, especially after the bulldozing of both the school right in their back yard and the nearby one also.  What is the chance of applicants putting these three schools on their forms and not being offered a place at any of them?  I don’t actually know the answer to this.  St. Peter’s and 20:20 Discovery will be academies so the sponsors have total control over admissions and I don’t know what line they will take.  Birches Head as a foundation/trust school will have some control over admissions but will need to reasonably cooperate with the local authority.  But if they were to prioritise placing pupils from Townsend, where do the pupils from Birches Head go?  It just seems to me that the residents of Berry Hill, Townsend and Bentilee may well lack both provision and choice if the disastrous plans proceed.

I have concentrated on my pet topic, schools, but across the board I have been unimpressed by the council leader and think we could do better.  Besides, what is more important for our city’s future than it’s children and surely important to them is their education, their schools, their communities and their pride of place within them?

I am hopeful that our councillors may instigate a vote of no confidence in the leader very soon and install someone better.

“ËœMayor Quimby’ ““ it’s time to go!

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.