Warning over an education ‘crisis’ in Saffron Walden

10:53 16 January 2014

Cllr John Lodge, Saffron Walden

Cllr John Lodge, Saffron Walden's Essex County Councillor

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Saffron Walden could be heading towards a crisis over a lack of primary school places, according to the town’s county ­councillor.

"It’s clear we are heading towards a crisis in primary education."

Cllr John Lodge Essex County Council

Cllr John Lodge told the Reporter he had been shown figures that ­indicated a potential problem for the town over the next five years and beyond. Addressing members at last week’s Saffron Walden Town Council meeting, he said: “The town will run out of primary places by 2017 at the latest.

“It’s clear we are heading towards a crisis in primary education.

“When I asked to see the education strategy I expected it might not be fully formed and would have a few gaps.

“I was totally wrong. What I found was there is no strategy at all.”

Essex County Council’s most recent public document, titled Commissioning school places in Essex 2012-17, forecasts a spare 77 primary school places in Saffron Walden in 2017.

This takes into account the building of just over 500 homes, but does not factor in the latest developments earmarked for the town as part of the Local Plan.

Essex’s cabinet member for Education, Cllr Ray Gooding, admitted things had changed “quite significantly” since the document was published.

“We have got significant pressure on primary school places across large parts of Essex, and Uttlesford is one of those,” he told the Reporter.

"We have got significant pressure on primary school places across large parts of Essex, and Uttlesford is one of those."

Cllr Ray Gooding Cabinet member for education

“Saffron Walden Town Council has asked me to go and speak to them about both primary and secondary places because of the pressure on schools in the town.”

Just over 1,000 homes are set to be built over the 20-year period from 2011-2031.

Last month a 300-home scheme off Thaxted Road, proposed by developer Kier Homes, was deferred in part because of concerns about the impact on education places.

According to the Local Plan, it is proposed that money for a new primary school will come from multiple developers, with Kier Homes being one of them, if the application is successful.

However, Cllr Lodge expressed concern about when, and if, this money would be forthcoming because it would depend on the various applications being approved.

Cllr Gooding confirmed Essex was in talks with Uttlesford about finding land for a new primary school.

Explaining how the demand for places would be met, he said: “It’s a case of making sure new developments provide sufficient financial contributions [for primary school places] to mitigate their impact.

“What I’m keen to make sure is that, where there is significant development, developers provide sufficient financial provision so we don’t end up spending tax payers’ money [on meeting demand for education places] while developers go off with a profit.

“The district council still needs to look for a piece of land to build a school, however, because even if you have the cash you still need somewhere to build it.”

Cllr Gooding added: “We could also look at the expansion of existing schools. That wouldn’t be ideal but it would mean there is somewhere [for primary school children] to go.”

Defending Essex’s education blueprint for Saffron Walden, he said: “The basic strategy is there but there are always the finer points of detail.

“We often end up being reactive because plans for housing can change, and clearly we need to be involved in those discussions if they do.”

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