A PRIMARY school which agreed to take on more pupils to meet the demand for places has criticised Leeds City Council after discovering its expansion plans could be undermined by a bid to turn part of the site into a village green.
Gledhow Primary’s chairman of governors has strongly criticised the “poor support” it received from Leeds City Council in a letter to parents about the situation. The school is now committed to becoming a three-form entry from this September and has signed contracts for building work to take place on the site. It agreed to expand to meet the pressing need for places in the north of the city.
However it could now face losing control of a field which it had planned to expand onto - if it is given village green status.
Gledhow Primary’s headteacher Stephen Archer said the field was needed to provide a playground area after the school expands to ensure pupils had the same quality of outdoor education that they currently enjoy.
However campaigners say they want to preserve the field for community use.
Last year the school fenced off Gledhow Field, which it owns and planned to use once new buildings are in place. This led to strong objections from a community group who believe the field should remain open to residents.
The Friends of Gledhow Field submitted a bid for the area to be given village green status last year for and Leeds City Council has announced that it has agreed to consider it as the registration authority.
Now Gledhow Primary is urging pupils’ parents who oppose the village green application to make their views known to the council.
In a letter to parents the school’s chairman of governors Dr John Willott said the council had “failed to take appropriate action to head off the village green application.” It suggests the planning application for the school’s expansion should have been used to prevent the village green application from being considered. The letter also criticised the council for failing to inform the school that the village green application had been submitted. It says the school even resorted to submitting an unsuccessful Freedom of Information Act request in an attempt to find out.
A council spokeswoman said the authority recognised this was a difficult situation “for the school, parents, students and the local community”. She said the council had to balance separate legal duties as landowner, provider of school places and the registration authority for village green bids. She added: “This leads to a complicated situation where different departments of the council have distinct duties to perform that are influenced by separate legal requirements. “Everyone is entitled to share their views on this application during the consultation process and we welcome all opinions- including those that may not necessarily agree with each other from within the council. At the end of the process the council will need to consider all the evidence in determining whether the application meets the legal tests before finally taking a decision.”
Dr Willott’s letter also voiced concerns that council officers said the school would be expanding to a three form entry regardless of whether the governing body had wanted to withdraw from the plan. Dr Willott’s letter adds that despite the uncertainty over the site the school was planning to go ahead with the expansion as it had a social obligation to the community.
It says: “While frustrated that the actions of a narrow interest group and what we felt was poor support from elements of the council we took the decision to proceed with three form entry.”
The school has also asked the council’s Scrutiny Board for Children’s Services “to consider how these unfortunate circumstances have arisen.”
Mr Archer added: “The expansion will mean hundreds more children will be able to come to this school. I think the question has to be asked what is in the community’s best interests?”
Paul Sellars of the Friends of Gledhow Field group said: “We have always said the best solution here would be a compromise which allows the community to use some of the field, as they have done for years.
“Central to our view are the wider interests of the community. A wider view than that of the school, I’d say, as we consider the interests of adults as well as children and the use of the field at evenings, weekends and school holidays rather than during school time only.”
In order for the village green bid to be successful the application will need to show significant numbers of people have used the land for “lawful sports and pastimes” for at least 20 years without the permission of the land owner.
Mr Archer is leaving the school this week. He said his departure was not connected to this situation. The school’s deputy head Joy Burrows is also leaving, as she retires.