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Mr. Hugo Swire (East Devon) (Con): The university of Plymouth's report on the impact of the move of Rolle college in my constituency from Exmouth to Plymouth clearly indicates that the ensuing loss to the town would be in the region of £4.8 million to £5.6 million per annum, which represents between 1 and 2 per cent. of Exmouth's economy. The three-month consultation period ended on Monday, and the governors of Plymouth university will announce their decision on 11 November. That is why more than 3,500 petitioners have signed my petition.
One of the things in this Government's record since 1997 of which I am most proud has been the record investment in education, particularly in terms of capital work to renew our schools. In my Denton and Reddish constituency, we have certainly benefited from that investment. With the money, we are renewing the fabric of all our existing schools. We have a new primary school at Poplar street, Audenshaw, and another new school is planned to replace both Aldwyn school and Hawthorns school, again in Audenshaw. There is a possibility that we will have a brand new primary school in Dukinfield, and it is now also possible that we will have one in Reddish, in the Stockport part of my constituency. It is to the school proposal in Reddish that I wish to draw the attention of the House and of my hon. Friend the Minister.
For any community, the announcement of a brand new primary school with modern learning facilities and an attached children's centre should be brilliant news. However, that theory takes no account of the total mismanagement of the issue by Stockport council over the summer.
First, the council's Liberal Democrat executive has decided that the new school will be developed on land at Harcourt street. The land, now a playing field, was a clay extraction site for the former Jackson brickworks. When the clay extraction process ended in the late 1960s, the massive hole in the ground was infilled with all kinds of rubbish. That, of course, was prior to the introduction of the 1974 landfill licensing regime.
There are no records of precisely what was dumped at Harcourt street. To put my concerns into context, I wish briefly to take the House on a tour of my constituency. In the Tameside part of the seat, we have three other former Jackson Brick clay extraction sites. As at Harcourt street, those sites were all landfilled in the 1970s before the licensing regime existed, and were subsequently converted to playing fields.
"This is a former clay pit and problems with landfill gas migration became apparent in late 1997. Landfill gas alarms were fitted in four properties after gas was found after a routine inspection. Following this the Council received funding to install a venting trench with extraction stacks."
"This site, a former clay pit, was identified as a problem in 1989 with gas found to be migrating from the site. Tameside received funding to install a gas extraction system across the site. The site remains closed off to the public and responsibility has been transferred to the Environment Agency."
As if that were not bad enough, there is another Jackson's site at Adswood, in Stockport borough itself. It is also experiencing substantial problems with gassing and leachate. In the report that went to the council's executive, not a single mention was made of the fact that Harcourt street was a former landfill siteeven though it is clearly logged on the council's contaminated land register.
I asked Stockport council what testing had been done to ascertain whether the site was safe for a new primary school. The council presented me with a so-called consultants report. First, the report got the location of the site wrong: it even refers erroneously to ground investigations at Bank Hall service station, Bootle. That is hardly a comfort to those of us seeking assurances from the report.
It transpires that, on that massive site, just six boreholes had been dug, and that four of those were abandoned at around 3 m because of obstructions in the ground. So the whole basis of the approval of the site hinges on a two-borehole survey. The small print in the consultants report states that the
Thanks to a superb presentation by those members of the public who have formed themselves into the north Reddish action group, Stockport council's scrutiny committee called in the executive's decision and asked for further site monitoring to be done. Unfortunately, the executive decision for the site was not overturned. The extra tests are crucial, but I fear they will be too little, too late, because the decision is made and we still do not know precisely what was dumped at Harcourt street.
Nor is it the case that there are not alternative or better sites in the immediate areathere are. Residents themselves have suggested a number of possible alternative sites, and their suggestions should at least, one would have hoped, be given proper consideration by Stockport council. They were not: Stockport's mind was firmly made up in advance of the formal decision. In a letter to me dated 23 August, the director of education told me that one impediment to one of the proposed alternative sites was that it would require a
Those are my concerns about the site itself and how the council reached its crazy decision to site a primary school there. I shall turn briefly to matters relating to the two existing primary schools, which are set to close.
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First, we are in the middle of a consultation period on the Fir Tree and North Reddish schools closure proposals. Given the Minister's letter to all local education authority chief executives, dated 6 September, in which she informs them that Members of Parliament are to be considered statutory consultees for school reorganisations in their constituencies, she will understand my dismay that I am still awaiting official notification from Stockport council of the proposal in my constituency.
Secondly, I firmly dispute the estimated sale price of the Fir Tree site, a substantial site of between four and eight acres, depending on the amount of land the council is willing to have developed. It is only £1.2 million, with outline planning permission for housing thrown in. That is outrageous, despite protestations to the contrary in the local press by the rather ineffectual new council leader. Neighbouring Labour-controlled Tameside aims to raise land values of around £1 million an acre for such land with planning consent and, more importantly, succeeds in getting it. If Stockport sought to do the same, it would raise a substantial sum.
On the basis of the council's projected capital receipts and the £2.2 million grant from the Government, there is a shortfall in total projected finances. The Lib-Dem Stockport council has excelled itself in committing to borrow the extra money. My point is that if it did not flog off the land on the cheap, it clearly would not need to borrow more money. What a double whammy that is for Reddish residentsthe council sells the land to a developer on the cheap, and the residents pay for the privilege.
Given that appalling situation, I asked for the background information that would support the executive's decision to borrow the additional money. It beggars belief: it is four pages longone page for each of the two school sites to be sold and two covering pages of officer blurb. So much for the full financial options appraisal I was promised and hoping for.
I was lost for words when I read that. The executive approved borrowing on the basis of a back-of-a-fag-packet report, when no detailed consultation with the planning, legal or education departments had even taken place.
I hope that the Minister can intervene to inject some realism into the project. Stockport council needs to start again, and from the beginning. It is a complete and utter disaster. In the near 10 years in which I served in local government before becoming an MP, I never saw anything bungled quite as this scheme has been. Executive members have railroaded through important decisions on the basis of sloppy reports and inaccurate informationno questions asked, not even a little query. The proposal was just nodded through.
The community's views have been ridden over roughshod in this shabby, sorry affair. Only in Lib-Dem Stockport could the council turn a good news story into the script for the ultimate disaster movie. I hope that the Minister fully appreciates the concerns of my constituents and that the people of Reddish want a new school with top facilities. The people of Stockport
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deserve better than their incompetent and rotten Liberal Democrat administration, and the children of Reddish deserve better than a landfill site.
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