Alok Sharma, the Member of Parliament for Reading West, on Wednesday 11th September 2013 spoke at the Elvian School Inquiry, which is hearing Taylor Wimpey’s appeal to reverse the decision by Reading Borough Council to reject the planning application to build 193 homes on the site.
The West Reading Education Network (WREN) has been given permission by the Department for Education to open a new Free School in west Reading and the group’s first choice of location for the school is on the site of the former Elvian School.
Speaking at the Inquiry, Alok spoke about his support for the WREN school, describing WREN’s ambitions as a “fantastic vision” to provide a 21st Century education and that he believed they would be able to deliver that vision on the Elvian site. Alok pointed out the benefits of setting up a free school with the support of the local community and highlighted the achievements of All Saints Junior School, which was set up by many of the same people involved with WREN and has recently been assessed to be ‘Outstanding’ after its first OFSTED inspection.
In giving evidence, Alok pointed out that a combination of demographic changes and poor planning by Reading Borough Council has put severe pressure on primary school places locally and this will feed into a shortage in secondary school places.
Alok went on to point out that Reading Borough may not be able to continue to rely on West Berkshire schools to provide for all the additional secondary school places it needs for Reading Borough students, given that West Berkshire Council faces it own significant bulge in primary school places which will work its way into secondary school numbers. Almost 800 children from Reading Borough currently attend schools in West Berkshire, which means Reading Borough will soon face a “double whammy” in additional pressure on secondary school places.
Alok also dispelled suggestions made by the Taylor Wimpey team that the site would not be available for the WREN school, explaining to the Inquiry that Taylor Wimpey do not actually own the site, which is in fact owned by the charity LVS.
Alok was also able to quote an email from the owners of the Elvian site which made clear they were happy to meet with WREN if the Taylor Wimpey appeal failed as well as correspondence from the Education Funding Agency which stated that it had not ruled out purchasing the Elvian site if it became available in the future.
During the evidence session, Alok also explained that aside from the need for the site to be used as a school, the application was unsuitable because:
Alok Sharma said: “I hope that when the Planning Inspector makes a decision on this appeal he will consider one of Taylor Wimpey’s own principles, which notes that ‘We strive to enhance the environment and local community and not damage it’. Dumping 193 new dwellings on the Elvian School site is not going to enhance the environment and does not have the support of the local community, whereas a school on the site does have that local support.”
Alok continued: “I urge the Planning Inspector to listen to local people who have been very clear they want this land for learning not for housing and reject this appeal for the benefit of Reading’s children.”
Mischa Tytel, lead member for WREN said: “We’re delighted that Alok chose to personally speak at the Inquiry and he made a real difference as he represents his community and their views. It’s clear that there’s a pressing need for a large number of new school places in the West Reading area and the Elvian site is the common sense choice for many reasons. We look forward to the outcome of the Public Inquiry and trust that common sense will prevail.”