Cabinet expected to approved new secondary school for Knowle

March 01 2019

THE CONSTRUCTION of a new secondary school for Knowle is edging closer with news that an outline deal will be considered by the city council cabinet on Tuesday March 5.

THE CONSTRUCTION of a new secondary school for Knowle is edging closer with news that an outline deal will be considered by the city council cabinet on Tuesday March 5.

The new secondary at the old Merrywood school site in Daventry Road will be built with government funding, at a total cost of up to £25 million.

It will have six forms of entry and capacity for 900 pupils and will be run by the Oasis academy chain.

As part of the deal, The Park Community centre, which occupies the old Merrywood school buildings, will be given a brand new home next to the new school.

It’s not clear when the new school could open.

Sam Carrier, marketing manager at The Park, a charity which provides a home to dozens of community groups and small businesses, said the news was “absolutely amazing” because it could see the centre ending up with a purpose-built new building.

The old school buildings, which date from the 1970s, are leaky, hard to heat and expensive to maintain.

“It will be much more sustainable building– at the moment we sped at least £100,000 a year keeping the water from dripping through the roofs,” she said. “This would mean the money we get goes towards our work.”

Next week’s cabinet is being asked to transfer the land, which is all council-owned, to the Education and Skills Funding Agency (EFSA). The EFSA will build both the school and the new community centre, and will give the freehold of the community centre back to the council on completion.

The council is also being asked to give up its interest in a small plot of land off Tavistock Road to be sold for 10-12 social housing units. The revenue from these could then support The Park Centre.

Knowle Lib Dem councillors Gary Hopkins and Chris Davies are also hoping the plan is passed by next Tuesday’s cabinet.

They fought the original plan to close Merrywood school.

Cllr Hopkins said that 20 years ago he was in the high court in London for a judicial review challenge to oppose the closure of Merrywood “by the Labour council and Labour government”.

Cllr Hopkins said: “The court challenge failed but the fight put up led to the formation of The Park opportunity centre on the site and support over the years has led to the brilliant plan from the trustees that will see a brand new school and brand new community facilities on the site.

 

In a statement to be delivered to Tuesday's cabinet meeting, Cllr Hopkins with support from local Lib Dem Cllr Chris Davies, said:"Can I firstly say how much I welcome the report about the ex Merrywood site in Knowle Ward. I wish to put on record my thanks to many people who have contributed to this very positive result, 20 years after the shame of the Merrywood closure.

 

"These include: Clive Harry and those members of the community who fought hard to preserve education and community facilities on the site.

"Cabinet colleagues from the past who put so much effort into backing The Park and helping the trust towards the successful asset transfer.

"The Trustees, supported by the community, have done a wonderful job of maintaining and enhancing a very tired old site and have now shown great imagination and drive with the development plans. The many organisations that have delivered valuable services from The Park and will be rewarded with brand new facilities. The Trustees have also been very helpful and cooperative with regard to information and communication.

"The education officers past and present, who have recognised the need for secondary education to return to Knowle and helped us with our lobbying of central government.

"Cllr Tim Kent, who also made clear to the powers that be that a further secondary school in his area was a much less desirable outcome than one in Knowle.

"The fact that Knowle children have been disadvantaged by having to access education at a distance is confirmed by our ward profile results.

"These show that our excellent local primary schools (not always as successful in the past) have contributed to Knowle children getting a score of 73.9 % level 4+ at KS2, compared to the city average of 61.1 %, but we go into negative territory with the secondary results. These primary school results are achieved not because of an unduly privileged population, as some parts of the ward suffer from very high multiple deprivation.

"As a governor of Knowle Park primary school for 17 years, and a keen observer and admirer of the neighbouring massively improved Ilminster Avenue primary school, I understand the problems of not having a close by secondary to work with.

"I see that our communications with the community have been acknowledged as a positive contribution and these took place only after it became publicly obvious from an answer to a council question where the new school was headed. Once the information was out, we needed to make clear that there was no negative threat to organisations at The Park and how good this would be for the area.

"It is disappointing that after eventually getting a short meeting with the cabinet member for education and skills and the relevant officers, that the promise of being kept in the council loop has not turned into reality.

"I would make an observation regarding the environmental report which is attached. It completely fails to point out the massive environmental benefit derived because hundreds of children and their parents and not having to travel to distant sites and that in many cases they will be walking to school.

"I urge the administration to not only ensure that they provide every assistance to help complete this plan but also to help remove barriers that might slow final delivery and also in future keep local councillors fully informed, as the trustees have done."