Council decision-makers have agreed to spend more than £5m on controversial plans to expand a primary school in North Leeds.
Moor Allerton Hall School’s proposed 200-place expansion was approved by council decision-makers last year, despite warnings from its own schools advisory board that such changes would be “risky”.
But, following suggestions from opposition councillors the scheme was facing “spiralling costs”, the council’s ruling executive board continued to give its backing to the plans, with the authority’s lead member for education claiming the scheme could, in fact, save money.
So what is happening to Moor Allerton Hall School?
Leeds City Council has a shortage of school places in parts of North Leeds, and it needs to create more of them sooner rather than later.
Plans put to the council last year involve increasing the capacity from 420 pupils to 630 pupils over a number of years, with each intake rising from 60 to 90 pupils.
The changes are planned to come in at the beginning of the next school year.
Why are the plans controversial?
The council’s executive board decided last year to press ahead with the plans, despite its own Schools Organisation Advisory Board (SOAB), made up of education experts in the city, advising against the proposals.
SOAB claimed the plans were “risky”, adding that September 2019 was too short a period of time to properly implement the plans.
It also warned the school was already under-subscribed and required improvement. SOAB unanimously recommended the council reject the plans.
Earlier this week, Coun Dan Cohen (Con, Alwoodley) also claimed costs for the plans were “spiralling”, and urged the authority to consider alternative sites.
Why is the council still so keen on expanding the school?
Coun Jonathan Pryor, the authority’s executive member for learning, skills and employment, said this week that the expansion would address a need for school places in that area of the city.
He added that the authority had consulted extensively with local people and Government on the plans, adding that the community “just wants us to get on with it.”
So what happened today?
A design and cost report for the school were put to the authority’s executive board, a decision-making body of senior councillors in the city, for approval.
Members were asked to approve £5.6m to go towards the school expansion, for work to begin on site next month.
Coun Pryor told the meeting: “The works required are critical to ensuring the learning places expansion of the academic year starting this September.
“The school has been taking bulge years for the past few years so this is essentially a formalisation of that and giving the school the right resources to do what they are already doing.”
Leader of the council’s Conservative group Coun Andrew Carter responded: “My colleagues of the adjacent areas have raised numerous concerns about the placing of these extra places.
“The original costings of £4.2m have increased to £6.4m (sic). Is Coun Pryor going to ensure us that this will be sufficient to deliver what is set out?”
Coun Pryor hit back, claiming that the costs were not increasing at all and that the council may even save money on the scheme.
He said: “I am assuming he is linking this to the comments Coun Cohen made in the press originally.
“Unfortunately I don’t think he was paying full attention to some costs that were detailed in the scrutiny report. The £4.2m is for construction alone.
“It was made clear that this did not include off-site highway works, planning regulations for the site, fees associated with the site, and the buying-out of a PFI contract for the access road. Those were always going to be additional – and costs aren’t going up, as characterised by Coun Cohen.
“We are in dialogue with contractors and we could save an additional £250,000-£300,000.
“The larger figure contains £330,000 of contingency funds, which are almost required, but over the last 11 school expansions, we have saved £4.7m, often as of that.”
The board then agreed to move the proposals.
What happens now?
The final plans will go before a full council meeting on February 27, where they are expected to be given final approval.
Work is expected to start on site on March 4.