Councillors approved the £6.8 million development of Cockburn School at the Executive Board meeting this afternoon, but Cllr Carter pledged to have the decision ‘called in’ for scrutiny.
As we reported last week, the proposals will see a ten-classroom block built to accommodate a two form ‘bulge cohort’ over the next five years. It will also see the school’s playing fields expanded onto land that formed part of the former South Leeds Golf Club.
Cllr Andrew Carter, leader of the Conservative Group on the Council, said he was “astonished” at the costs involved, compared to plans for other schools in Leeds either taking bulge cohorts or expanding permanently.
“I think we’ve been taken for a ride” he said. “I think this has come about because over generous promises were made and officers have been required to redeem those promises, and the result of that is the academy chain were able to ask for more money beyond their wildest dreams.”
Officers explained that the scheme was so expensive because it sought to deal with historic issues at Cockburn. Cost savings made when the school was rebuilt in 2010 meant it was undersized for the number of children, which had risen since then from 1,050 to 1,200 and there was no spare capacity within the existing building. Additionally Cockburn was already short of playing field space on site, which would be made worse by the new building having to be built over tennis courts.
Cllr Jonathan Pryor, Executive Board member for Learning, Skills & Employment, planted the blame for the current situation firmly with the Government.
“The primary reason of the costs for Cockburn is because the government failed to deliver Laurence Calvert School. We knew this bulge was there, we knew we needed an entire new school, that school was supposed to open in September 2019 and it hasn’t. And it hasn’t because the Government has not been listening to the Council when we’ve been saying we needed it. They’ve pushed it back, they pushed it back again, and they pushed it back again.
“We are in a place where we need places where the only schools available to expand are very difficult to expand because they’ve already expanded several times. That’s why the cost is that much higher.”
Cllr Judith Blake, leader of the Council, asked for an update on the opening of the Laurence Calvert Academy saying
“We cannot carry on letting down families and young people across the south of Leeds in this way. It’s deeply irresponsible of the Dept (of Education), we’ve done everything to move things forward, we’ve moved our Highways offices out of the building (to make the site ready).”
Officers confirmed that the Department for Education had indicated that they would allow Laurence Calvert to open on a temporary site in September 2021 and that they would meet the costs of facilitating this.
As well as being examined by a Scrutiny Board, the project will have to apply for planning permission, at which point residents can comment in favour or against the plans.
The meeting was live streamed and a video of the whole discussion will be available in due course at: leeds.public-i.tv/core/portal/webcasts