£7m expansion of Leeds school to go ahead despite Tory claims its 'bad value for money'

Controversial plans to expand a Leeds secondary school to make space for extra students is set to go ahead, despite claims by Tory councillors the idea is "poor value for money".

Wednesday, 8th July 2020, 5:37 pm
Updated Wednesday, 8th July 2020, 5:40 pm

More classrooms will be built at Cockburn School in Beeston, while a small chunk of neighbouring land on Middleton Park will be acquired and used to expand its PE facilities, subject to planning permission.

The move will create additional space for an extra 60 pupils to be taught at the school over the next two years, amid rising pressure on school places in south Leeds.

Opposition Conservatives were critical of the Leeds City Council plan, claiming its near £7m cost was too expensive and "disproportionate".

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The council said the plans would benefit pupils already attending Cockburn as well as the new cohort of extra pupils starting this September (file picture).

But the local authority said the government's failure to build a new free school, Laurence Calvert Academy, in time for the influx of new pupils this September had forced their hand.

Councillors voted to allow the scheme to progress by a margin of 11 votes to four at a scrutiny meeting on Wednesday.

Earlier, Tory councillor Ryan Stephenson had told the virtual hearing that the expansion was overpriced.

He suggested other schools in the area could have been rebuilt to accommodate the extra pupils at a vastly reduced cost.

He also cited figures suggesting Leeds City Council spends three times as much per school place than other UK cities of similar size.

He said: "In terms of the sums of money involved, £7m is no small sum.

"In fact, it's more than double what it would cost to send these 60 pupils to Leeds Grammar School for five years, which is quite extraordinary.

"Whatever the outcome today, I don't believe any members of this board logging off will believe £7m for 60 school places is value for money".

However, Labour councillor Jonathan Pryor, executive member for learning, claimed the scheme was desperately needed by the current pupils attending Cockburn.

He also strongly denied suggestions that cheaper alternatives were available.

He said: "The site is already far too small, even before we get onto September and the extra 60 pupils who will be starting there and will be educated there for five years.

"This was the only option in town for the local authority. We looked at others, we expanded others. This was the only option left.

"This wouldn't be needed if the Department of Education had done what they were supposed to do and built Laurence Calvert Academy in 2019.

"It now won't be ready until 2022.

"We don't give every school the same amount of money. We have conversations with them. We look at what they need and then we adjust accordingly. There's no one-size-fits-all approach."

The council said it would consult with Friends of Middleton Park over the acquisition of the land, which used to belong to South Leeds Golf Course.

Local Democracy Reporting Service