More delay to school works

Cath Hill

Cath Hill

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VITAL building work on three Hartlepool schools under a new government scheme won’t start for at least another four years to the dismay of senior councillors who have slammed the levels of bureaucracy.

Three schools, Manor College of Technology, Barnard Grove Primary School and Holy Trinity CofE Primary School are set to benefit from the government’s Priority Schools Building Programme (PSBP).

But feasibility work won’t start for another two years and building work is not expected to be finished until 2018 – eight years after the new government scrapped Labour’s Building Schools for the Future (BSF) programme which would have seen £100m invested in town schools.

Manor College of Technology, Catcote School and Business Enterprise College, High Tunstall School of Science and English Martyrs School lost their funding.

The £12.4m remodel of Dyke House Sports and Technology College, in Mapleton Road, was the only one to escape the axe.

Speaking at a cabinet committee meeting, Peter McIntosh, the council’s head of planning and development, said the initial feasibility work for PSBP, due to start in April 2015, will take up to nine months.

There would then be a further 12-months for the procurement process and 12 to 18-months for the actual building work.

The schemes would be funded through private finance initiative (PFI) arrangements, something which councillors also raised concerns about.

Representatives from the schools, council and Education Funding Agency (EFA) are expected to meet regularly over the coming months to discuss the plans and what the financial commitments will be.

Mayor Stuart Drummond said: “I am getting a feeling of deja-vu here.

“We have been down this road before and it didn’t work out very well.

“A couple of these schools are falling down and Manor College in particular was ready for work under the BSF programme.

“It does not seem that the government is putting the same importance on education as the previous government did.”

Mayor Drummond said there is strong evidence that having the right infrastructure in place helps attainment levels.

Independent councillor Cath Hill added: “I find this extraordinary.

“This government came in and criticised the levels of bureaucracy with BSF yet there is similar, if not more, under this system.

“It is difficult to imagine anything more disorganised.”

Coun Hill added: “We have sat around for eight years and what have we got at the end of it?

“There is no allowance for imagination and all of the schools will be exactly the same, how inspiring.”

Independent councillor Paul Thompson added: “Eight years is a ridiculous amount of time to have to wait.

“Some of these schools are literally dropping down.”

In July last year, the council received word from the EFA, formerly Partnerships for Schools, that the PSBP will be delivered by grouping schools together into “batches”.

That process will take into account a series of factors including condition, geography and commercial viability to ensure there will be a healthy competition for the work.

Officials say as far as possible, the needs of the schools in the worst condition will be addressed first.