News Date: Thursday 17th September 2009
Loughton: Residents prepare for the Battle of the Vale
East Worthing MP Tim Loughton joined members of the Findon Valley Residents Association and local councillors at a ‘council of war’ last week pledging to step up the campaign against siting a family and children centre in the grounds of the Vale School in Findon Valley. This follows a decision by West Sussex County Council to go ahead with the centre in the teeth of overwhelming objections from local residents and parents at the school. Work is due to start on refurbishments to the school itself during the school holidays, followed by the filling in of the swimming pool and construction of the new centre later in the autumn.
Tim Loughton commented:
"After West Sussex Council’s planning committee voted themselves planning permission for the centre I accused the Council of breathtaking incompetence in the way they had handled this whole affair. I was wrong. It was breathtaking incompetence borne out of incredible arrogance. County Hall has completely stuck two fingers up at my constituents and almost literally bulldozed this proposal through. It is just this sort of disregard for the wishes of local people that gives politics a bad name and makes politicians look out of touch. I am relieved to say that we do things differently in my constituency and my constituents expect, and are entitled to, better.
"To recap, this whole process started with the County Council inviting a select band of stakeholders to a non existent venue for a consultation meeting back in February. They kept it secret from the ward councillors, from the Findon Valley Residents Association and from me. When people found out about it they were rightly annoyed given the serious congestion problems in the area already and the lack of information about what was involved and the impact it would have on an already crowded school. The Vale School and County council then hurriedly held a public meeting at which everyone in attendance had their concerns confirmed. The school were only in favour of the proposal because it would give them extra cash to fill in their swimming pool which in any case had been dug by local volunteers. The County Council assured everyone they had one their homework.
"At a second public meeting which I chaired over 150 people put questions to County Councillors and officers which remain unanswered. No proper research has been done as to the need for the children’s centre on this site, no traffic research has been done, no calculations of how many people will use it and for what purpose. The County Council promised at that meeting to go away and look thoroughly into alternative sites, particularly the Lime Tree Surgery where GPs are prepared to offer space. In the meantime over 260 residents sent individual letters of objection to the County Council against only 2 in favour despite the school having urged parents to write in support. Over 200 parents at the school signed a petition against the children’s centre. So the County Council then wrote to everyone to say that the building will go ahead anyway and offered no explanation. We now hear that they have not even bothered to talk to the Lime Tree surgery since the public meeting. This is no way to run a whelk stall let alone a children’s services department which has already been the subject of damning criticism from OFSTED resulting in staff from the DCSF having been sent in.
"The tragedy is that most of us fully support the children’s centre programme but there are clearly overriding reasons why this is the wrong place. The result will now be to drive a wedge between the school and the local community and undermine support for children’s centres elsewhere. I have written to the Secretary of State Ed Balls expressing my concerns and we will not be taking this decision lying down. Together with residents and the ward councillors we will be stepping up our campaign and the County Council should be in no doubt that they have messed up big time here.”