‘Gun to our heads’ jibe over Leeds primary school handover row

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LEEDS council bosses have accused the coalition Government of ”holding a gun to our heads” after the city was effectively ordered to hand over a former primary school site to a new free school for nothing.

As reported in the YEP, the Khalsa Science Academy, a Sikh ethos free school, wants to take over the former Fir Tree School building in North Leeds as its permanent home. The school closed in 2007, but the building was used as a “decamp site” until last year.

It is thought the site could be worth around £900,000. However the Department of Education wants to use powers under the Academies Act 2010 to enforce a handover - with no financial recompense for the city.

Speaking at a meeting of the Leeds council cabinet, Transport and Economy boss Richard Lewis slammed the Government’s “expropriation” bid, and the absence of a “proper political debate” on the issue.

Council leader Keith Wakefield added the city faces losing “nigh on a million pounds”. “They are holding a gun to our heads,” he said. “The fundamental principle is that local Government is being ignored and having assets taken away from it without any recompense.”

The YEP has reported recently that Leeds is facing a potential shortfall of 4,000 primary school places within three years.

Coun Judith Blake, chief cabinet spokeswoman for children’s services, said the current system makes it harder for councils to build new schools, and makes a “complete nonsense of how we can best plan for provision in the city”. She warned that “we have a free school up the road that is woefully undersubscribed”.

However councillor Andrew Carter, the opposition Conservative group leader, said colleagues were “in a place of your own making” and being “disingenuous”. “This piece of land has been vacant now for six years or longer, and not disposed of for any other purpose or use,” he said.

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