Concerns escalate over location of new free school

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A row is brewing between parents and Leeds City Council over the site for a planned free-school in Roundhay.

The organisation behind Roundhay Park Primary School has written an open letter to the local authority over a statement rejecting the former Elmete Wood school as a possibile new location for the building.

The YEP reported on Wednesday (January 25) how the Fair Access Schools Trust - which formed after more than 80 Roundhay parents said they missed out on all choices of local primary schools in 2015 - believe the Elmete Wood site to be the “only option” available.

It comes after a ten-month search failed to find a suitable site in time for the free school to open in September 2017 as originally planned.

Gillian Hayward, chairwoman of trustees, said: “We firmly believe the site at Elmete Wood represents a reasonable compromise to solve the shortage of school places in the area.

“The site fits perfectly with our vision for the school...It must be emphasised that this is the best and only site option available to the trust at this time.”

The plan had been developed after parents in Roundhay launched a campaign, claiming they were living in a “school places black hole”.

However, Coun Lisa Mulherin, Executive Member for Children and Families, said: “We do not consider the Elmete Wood site as suitable, it is too great a distance from the area of need, there are significant highways issues and it is not within a reasonable walking distance with young children and so would result in an increase in the number of car journeys in the area.

“Additionally, this site would need planning permission to proceed and so it does not have any advantage over the other sites from this perspective.

“We are extremely disappointed that this site is being consulted on as we do not feel it is the best solution for local families and children.”

The Fair Access Schools Trust has now written an open letter seeking clarification over Coun Mulherin’s comments.

The letter states: “...the advice the Trust has been given is that Elmete Wood represents the only viable and deliverable option available to us, notwithstanding it still carries with it certain challenges.

“For this reason, we feel it is appropriate to explore it as a solution, seeking the views of the parents on whether they feel, with the right admissions police, it could offer a suitable, and more importantly deliverable compromise.”

“This message clearly differs from the view of the Council and understandably it will cause a great deal of concern for the families affected by this issue.

“It is for this reason we are seeking your urgent response and clarification to the points we have highlighted to ensure the parents are presented with a clear and realistic picture of the options open to the Trust.”

Asked for further comment, Coun Mulherin, said: “Like the Trust and the government’s Education Funding Agency (EFA), Leeds City Council has spent a long time trying to find a suitable site that meets the need for school places in the area. Unfortunately there is no easy solution as all of the sites put forward in the right area were either in Roundhay Park itself, in the green belt, or in existing use such as play areas or community centres.

“We withdrew a report from last September’s executive board that would have given the go ahead for a site on the ring road in council ownership because the EFA described it as ‘unworkable’ and Harewood Councillors objected to it being built in their green belt. We then went back to review all the sites the EFA and the Trust had previously ruled out.

“Having reviewed those sites, we advised the EFA that with their investment to lift the covenant and improve access for pedestrians, one of the two sites on the ring road would be best for a school site to meet the area of need of all the options available in that area.

“It’s worth noting that even if the EFA had not considered the site unworkable, it is unlikely the school would have gained the necessary planning permission to be built and open in time for September 2017. We did offer temporary sites that would allow the school to open this September, but without planning permission in place for a permanent site the EFA would not agree funding for the school to open on a temporary site.

“The site at Elmete Wood would require two miles travel from the area of need. It is not a reasonable walking distance with young children and would lead to increased car journeys and traffic in the area. As the Trust’s proposals are to demolish the former school building on the site it would also need planning permission making it no better than any of the other sites considered.

“We understand that the proposed admissions policy would prioritise children who live further away above those who live nearest to the Elmete Wood site. This would be against the spirit of the admissions code and against the principles of fair access.”

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