Decision-makers at Leeds City Council have been urged to look again at plans to expand a school in north Leeds, amid claims costs for the scheme are “spiralling”.
Moor Allerton Hall School’s proposed 200-place expansion was controversially approved by the council last year, despite warnings from its own schools advisory board not to go ahead with the changes.
The authority’s executive is due to meet tomorrow to discuss plans to approve £5.6m worth of spending on the site, and the council’s lead member for education hit back at the claims, adding that the community was keen for it to “get on with” the work.
But an opposition councillor has suggested the scheme is not needed, nor is it economically viable.
Coun Dan Cohen (Con, Alwoodley), said: “These plans have already faced a number of objections over whether they effectively address the lack of school places in Leeds. We still believe these places are being created in the wrong area and at a school that is already facing challenges following its Ofsted inspection.
“Last year we gave the council administration a chance to re-think their plans, but they opted to move ahead with what I believe to be deeply flawed proposals.
“Now we learn that the project costs are spiralling to over £2m more than the council originally thought – a staggering rise, and one which should raise concerns about the wisdom of this expansion.”
A new free school application for Roundhay had been approved in 2015, and due to open in September 2017. The meeting heard this proposal ended in January 2018 as no suitable site was brought forward.
This led to a proposal to merge Moor Allerton Hall and Allerton Grange. The merger plan was abandoned and instead plans were put in place to expand Moor Allerton Hall school.
Coun Cohen continued: “It is not too late for the council to stop and reconsider. It could still bring forward plans to create more school places in the actual area of need, building a new school on land at Roundhay Park Golf Course, which was one of the options on the table last year.
“This would be better value for money for the council, better for the existing pupils at Moor Allerton Hall and better for future pupils in North Leeds.”
Plans for the school had been labelled “risky” by Leeds City Council’s schools organisation advisory board (SOAB) – an independent panel of education experts – at a meeting in August 2018.
It claimed the September 2019 start date was too short a period of time to properly implement the plans, and warned the school was already under-subscribed and required improvement.
However, a council executive board meeting later that year decided to overrule the findings and approve the plans, which would see capacity expand from 420 to 630 pupils, the following month.
Responding to Coun Cohen’s comments, Coun Jonathan Pryor, the authority’s executive member for learning, skills and employment, said: “The expansion of Moor Allerton Hall addresses a need for school places in that area of the city. Exactly where those places are provided has been looked into by everyone from local parents, the local authority, right the way up to Government.
“By bringing forward, yet again, the idea of the Golf Driving Range, Coun Cohen is causing nothing but further upset and uncertainty for a community that just wants us to get on with it.
“Having visited Moor Allerton Hall Primary School myself I can say what a wonderful and welcoming school it is and I have no doubt whatsoever that it will provide a positive and nurturing environment for every child who attends as they help them achieve their full potential.”
The plans are set to go before Leeds City Council’s executive board on Wednesday, February 13.
Work is expected to finish on the site In Autumn 2019.