School sites consultation row
STEVE DOWNES The rift between Norfolk's two largest councils widened as one of its leaders was accused of being “disingenuous” about a public consultation into five empty schools in Norwich.
The rift between Norfolk's two largest councils widened as one of its leaders was accused of being “disingenuous” about a public consultation into five empty schools in Norwich.
Norwich City Council leader Steve Morphew claimed Norfolk County Council had failed to consult the city about possible future uses of the school sites, which closed in July.
But at Wednesday's county council children's services review panel Peter Harwood - a Labour ally of Mr Morphew - said: “He's being slightly disingenuous with the truth. He attended one of the consultation meetings and as a ward neighbour he has devices through me to get information on issues.”
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And Rosalie Monbiot, cabinet member for children's services, added: “We had a very angry Steve Morphew contact us to say the city council had never been consulted. But a consultation document was sent to the city council.
“They didn't formally reply. The comments he was making were not correct.”
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The row is the latest disagreement between the two councils, who are at loggerheads over the city's bid to go it alone and run all of its own services, including some that are currently under the county's wing.
Ministers have given a strong hint that City Hall will be granted unitary status if an enlarged boundary can be agreed, with the new council set to be up and running by 2010.
Earlier this week, former home secretary Charles Clarke piled pressure on Mr Morphew's Labour administration by saying the bid for home rule risked being derailed by the council's refusal to support an academy on the site of Heartsease High School.
Mr Clarke said City Hall's opposition to the £20m scheme was “educationally ignorant” and threatened the council's ability to convince the public that it could take over the running of schools.
At the meeting, panel members debated the future of Dowson First and Mile Cross Middle, which share a site, Wellesley First, South Harford Middle and Woodside First. Part of the Avenue First site will also be redundant, though most of it will become part of Avenue Junior.
The changes have all come about because of a reorganisation of education in the Norwich area, which means all youngsters will start high school at 11, instead of 12.
Among possible future uses, the South Harford site could become a new home for one of the county's pupil referral units, while others could be sold or leased for housing, for voluntary groups or for the county council's ICT solutions team.
Earlier this week, Mr Morphew called for the city to have more say in the process.
He said: “They are significant assets. It should be done on a partnership basis rather than simply by one authority.
“They are so big they should be looked at as part of the strategic development of the city. They need to be looked at as part of the whole area and not enough of that is happening. For them to be treated on their own and out of context will be a terrible mistake.”