Wednesday, 29 April 2015

Update: Turing House - Cabinet Member for Schools Statement

Statement from Cllr Paul Hodgins, Strategic Cabinet Member for Children's Services and Schools:

Source: http://www.richmondboroughconservatives.co.uk/index.php/news

"There has been much speculation in Whitton and Heathfield about Turing House, with a petition making many claims about the Council's role and motivations. People are signing the petition in good faith, and if I believed everything stated in the petition, I would likely sign it myself. 

The easy thing for me to do would be to say that securing the site for Turing House is the Education Funding Agency's (EFA) responsibility, not the Council’s, which is in fact true. The EFA is the Department for Education's funding arm. But that does not help Whitton and Heathfield residents. So let me state what I can at this stage.

Almost a year ago, the EFA and Turing House's attempts to secure a site fell through, to the disappointment of many parents. The Council therefore committed to work closely with them to find a site, to ensure that did not happen again. It is not fair on parents to keep hoping for a school that ultimately falls through or gets tied up in planning for years. Moreover, the fact is that in the coming years we will need more school places in the borough.

We stated right from the start that an amount of work has to be done before the EFA and Turing House can come forward with a formal proposal. I fully understand that residents want more details, but the EFA is not yet at the point where it has a proposed site confirmed. When it is, the reasons for the choice will be fully explained. It will then be subject to due planning process with all of its requirements for consultation.

I could leave things at that, but with all the rumours and false accusations on top of leaks made by people who should know better, to try to win votes at the expense of damaging the introduction of a new school, again that does not help residents. So let me say that, yes, the proposal may eventually be for Turing House to be in Whitton. If that happens, people will have different views, and let us then have the debate. But let us have it with all the facts, including all the positive benefits that the new school will bring.

The Council has exhaustively advised the EFA on potential sites. No interest group has influenced that advice. I would ask residents to understand that for all the new schools being established in the borough, there are no easy sites left. They all have their imperfections, certainly including planning restrictions for the larger sites, and I will not try to claim that the new schools can be put in without being noticed day to day.

However, I also believe Turing House will be an extremely positive addition to whichever community it winds up in. I am confident that it will be a well run school, and there is a passion for excellence amongst its steering group. They are keen to work with their local community, and the facilities will be a tremendous community resource.

A key driver for the concern in Whitton and Heathfield has been the proposed admissions policy. I fully understand that. The Council made our concerns known during their consultation, well before any petitions were launched. Turing House will have to find a balanced way to serve both the community in which it sits and the wider demand in other parts of the borough.

I do have to say that it is disappointing to see some misleading and clearly partisan statements surrounding the debate in Whitton against the school being located there. No vague statement made by Vince Cable is challenged, and everything related to the Council is a conspiracy. There is no conspiracy. We simply have a responsibility to ensure an excellent new school gets established for the benefit of our borough's young people.

Vince Cable is a government minister and longstanding MP. The Teddington councillors are from his party, including their local leader and lead on planning. It is not good enough to say to Whitton and Heathfield residents that Turing House should be in "Teddington". He knows the sites available. If he has actually bothered to find out the issues involved, then he should be specific on the site and he should address all the factors. Otherwise all he is doing is making a crowd-pleasing statement to win votes, a tuition fees pledge to Whitton and Heathfield residents on which he cannot deliver.

The Conservative administration and local Councillors have been highly supportive of Whitton and Heathfield residents since we were elected in 2010. They are important areas to us. The local Conservative councillors have made the views of residents known, including about the proposed admissions policy which they believe would be unfair if the school was proposed in Whitton. Tania Mathias, the Conservative Parliamentary candidate, has also clearly stated that she opposes a school with an 80:20 admissions policy being established in Whitton. I know they will all continue to strongly represent Whitton and Heathfield residents.

There is much more debate and consultation to be had, and rightly so. But let me say again that I believe Turing House will be an extremely positive addition to whichever community it calls home."

Paul Hodgins

Strategic Cabinet Member for Children's Services and Schools