COLUMN: Residents’ concerns should have been listened to over plans to expand Ecclesall Infant School

Councillor Alison Teal.
Councillor Alison Teal.
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I was one of the councillors who called in the recent council decision about Ecclesall schools.

This enabled public and cross-party scrutiny of plans to expand Ecclesall Infant School from 180 to 630 pupils.

Ecclesall Infant School.

Ecclesall Infant School.

Despite eloquent comments and questions from the public, the Labour-dominated scrutiny committee voted to uphold their cabinet’s decision.

Officers stated that 81 per cent of 220 written respondents expressed concerns or opposition to the plan.

However, the petition of hundreds of signatures only counted as one response. To continue in the face of an overwhelming majority of dissatisfied respondents suggests a disregard of public opinion, which the cabinet member for young people, children and families, highlighted by noting: “At the end of the day, this is a cabinet decision.”

What then, is the actual purpose of consultation?

At May’s council-organised workshop meetings, parents and residents were left feeling a decision had already been made. They were right. Why does the council shape the debate to the outcome they want and expect the community not to notice?

If you drive, cycle or walk along High Storrs Road and Huntley Road at bell time, you will know it is already extremely congested. When residents raised concerns about road safety, reducing green space and increasing air pollution, they were told these issues would not be addressed until after cabinet approved the expansion.

It would be up to the planning department to decide if these problems could be overcome.

The council could revert to an alternative, small-scale expansion of Clifford and Ecclesall Infant Schools instead of a large new building. With the loss of space, I doubt the proposal of a big primary will guarantee an improved experience for the children as the council suggests. It also leaves Clifford School pupils having to move to Ecclesall Juniors and miss out on the ‘through school experience’ which the council claims is superior to changing sites.

The cabinet ought to give residents more credit.

They should allow for the possibility that the community who live and work in an area may generate better ideas than the council. Cabinet would be wise to listen to the community they are supposed to serve. Based on their local knowledge, residents and parents put forward alternative proposals, which are cheaper and would create a safer environment for children to live and learn.