On Tuesday 15th September Whitton’s Conservative Councillor’s used the full Council meeting to continue to raise concerns raised by residents in light of the announcement that a site in Hospital Bridge Road would be the permanent location of Turing House School.
In the first instance Cllr Paul Hodgins, the Cabinet Member for Schools and Education, responded directly to a member of the public who queried what alternative sites had been considered in addition to the Hospital Bridge Road site. He stated that the Education Funding Authority (the central Government body which controls the process of identifying and purchasing sites for Free Schools) had conducted an extensive two year search for a suitable site that could support and comply with its criteria for a secondary school. He outlined two additional sites covered by the EFA: Udney Road and the National Physical Laboratory. In particular, he focussed on Udney Road, which has been the subject of intense speculation and public interest, and informed the Chamber that the EFA had been unsuccessful in its tender for the Udney Road site which he regretted had now been purchased by developers. Further details would be made available to the Council once a planning application is lodged for the acquired site as it was the EFA’s responsibility to provide and present in detail the reasons why it believes the proposed site “is the most feasible.” He stressed to the members of the public and Councillors present that Richmond Borough is severely restricted by a lack of suitable sites for potential secondary schools and that “We, of course, have to balance use, and take into consideration planning rules.”
Cllr Grant Healy then asked Cllr Hodgins whether he supported a school in Whitton intended primarily for students from Fulwell and Teddington? The Cabinet Member answered, “No, I would not be in favour of it.” He expanded on this by saying it had not been either his view or the Council’s that Turing House School should serve only one area, as demand for a new secondary school was wider than that. He believed that the people of Whitton “deserve the choice and option of Turing House as much as anywhere else.” He said that he had made his opposition to the School’s 80/20 admission policy clear, that this had been set too early – before the School’s permanent site had been settled. He welcomed the promise of the re-consultation made by the school, and that the Council will continue to push for a much fairer balance.
Cllr Healy then asked, “Has the Council the power to block the siting of Turing House School?” Cllr Hodgins replied, “We do not have the power to arbitrarily block it.” However, he pointed out that an application for planning would have to undergo the usual due process, and if the planning application was refused the school would not go ahead. It was his opinion, that had the Council been in control of the process of finding a site for the school it would have faced the same issues as had EFA. However, he hoped that the Council would have handled parts of the process differently; “We would have taken the example of the college site and the new school there. Where I think we have done a very good job of consulting early and being as open as we could.”
Cllr Liz Jaeger asked Cllr Hodgins whether he agreed with her that no matter what the entrance ratio was, that “there was no need for these school places in Whitton.” Cllr Hodgins replied, “No, I couldn’t disagree with that more. And I think that’s insulting to local parents. There is a great increase in the number of primary students coming up across the Borough; and I also think that there is a need in that area for choice, Heathfield and Whitton residents deserve that choice and I’m surprised that the Lib Dems locally are just accepting the narrative, which I’ve never agreed with, that the choice is for parents elsewhere and not in their area.”
Cllr Gareth Elliott asked the Cabinet Member to expand on his response as to the need for a secondary school in Whitton and whether he could outline what benefits it could bring to Whitton’s residents and its potential future students. Cllr Hodgins responded, “Over the last five years we have added six hundred permanent primary places across the Borough. Over half of those, the majority, are on the Twickenham side of the river, ninety of those have been in Whitton and Heathfield, as much as anywhere else. So, there has been a significant growth in the numbers. The reason why Turing House is being introduced at this time, and not later, when that bulge comes up, is because parents are requesting a choice. And the reality is the Lib Dem’s policy of giving away two of our local schools [including Twickenham Academy] to the same provider has not convinced enough parents, and they want a choice. Whitton and Heathfield parents deserve that choice just as anywhere else.”
Finally, responding to a point put forward by the Lib Dem Heathfield Cllr, John Coombs, regarding parking and traffic issues surrounding the siting of Turing House School and a call for a traffic survey, the Cabinet Member for Highways and Streetscene, Cllr Stephen Speak said, “This is part of the process anyway and I would expect a transport survey to be conducted, there is no reason why that should not be produced as part of the planning process.”