There is news on the planned new secondary school at Kidnappers Lane – and it’s a mixed bag for local residents.
First of all, a government inspector, Wendy Burden, has issued her interim advice on the draft Cheltenham Local Plan – one of the key local planning documents for our area. Against the run of previous inspections and the wishes of both the Borough and Parish Councils – she concluded that the 39 hectares proposed by our local councils as protected Local Green Space at Leckhampton might be too “extensive” and not justified. This is very surprising since an enormous amount of evidence has been amassed to justify the protection of the Leckhampton green fields (alongside a substantial amount of new housing next to the Shurdington Road). Under the National Planning Policy Framework, there is no upper size limit on LGS and it should for local communities to determine this but nevertheless the opinions of this experienced inspector carry huge weight in the process and the councils have to pay attention to this or risk the whole draft plan being declared “unsound”. I have been in discussion with Cheltenham planning officers along with fellow parish councillors to see what we can salvage from this situation.
The inspector’s verdict has played right into the hands of the Conservative-led county council who want to grab some of the planned Local Green Space for their controversial new secondary school instead of building it on the land next to Shurdington Road which had been earmarked for development (see my earlier update here). The county presented plans for the Kidnappers Lane site at a recent public meeting:
There are some positives to these plans: it’s noticeable that they retain the extensive and ancient hedgerow around the school site which will be really important in Kidnappers Lane and Farm Lane retaining some of their current charm and rural character and will make an attractive green environment for the school students themselves. The plans also set the school building right at the northern end of the site, closest to planned development and the least intrusive location in respect of the planned protected Local Green Space to the south and east. The playing fields – and in particular the all-weather Astro pitch could be important community assets for local young people, including Leckhampton Rovers Football Club.
But local residents still have deep and – in my view – well-founded worries about the safety and traffic implications of such a large school set amongst what are now rural lanes with already congested roads around them, not least because the county’s shifting of the site will make way for developers to try to put even more housing on the fields next to the Shurdington Road. It’s also disappointing that the building and site so close to a Local Green Space and clearly visible from the AONB seem to boast so little in the way of green features, in stark contrast to exciting low energy new developments like the two Gloucester Services on the M5 which are camouflaged so well as to be nearly invisible from any distance or even the headquarters of Gloucestershire Constabulary in Quedgeley which boasts a fantastic reneweable energy resource in the shape of a large ground-source heat pump.
Unusually the county is applying to itself for planning permission to build the school instead of to the usual planning authority, Cheltenham Borough Council. A further consultation event is planned for 4.30-7pm 27 June at Hatherley & Reddings Cricket Club (on the left of the Shurdington Road outside town down towards Shurdington). Come along and make your views known!
In December 2017, Gloucestershire County Council cabinet decided to establish a new 900 place 11-16 secondary school in Cheltenham, widely regarded as necessary because of a looming crisis in secondary school admissions. They identified Kidnappers Lane in Leckhampton as their preferred site. Funding for the school was approved in February 2018 and the school is expected to open to new Year 7s in September 2021. It is being sponsored by outstanding local secondary school Balcarras who bring a welcome reputation for high academic standards and positive engagement with their local community.
But the site of the new school is causing real concern and controversy and not just because of the likely impact on local traffic through narrow rural lanes.
After more than ten years’ campaigning against the imposition of thousands of new houses all over Leckhampton’s green fields, local campaigners like the Leckhampton Green Land Action Group (LEGLAG) and the Parish Council accepted that the fields immediately next to the A46 Shurdington Road would be built on, principally for new homes. The remaining fields would be protected as Local Green Space, a new designation for local green spaces important to communities which I initiated when I was MP for Cheltenham and which is now national policy. After discussions with the county council, Cheltenham Borough Council included the new secondary school in their draft Local Plan on the land to be developed – at the corner of Shurdington Road and Kidnappers Lane. It was accepted that the school’s playing fields could be within the planned Local Green Space area further up Kidnappers Lane. This was agreed in writing by Gloucestershire County Council in March 2018 (as explained in these Cheltenham Borough Council minutes – see Question 10).
Then in September 2018 the county council changed its mind and announced that despite all the previous discussions, it wanted to build the school in the area further up Kidnappers Lane everyone expected to be protected Local Green Space. Why? To save the county money. The new site was land they owned and would not have to buy in opposition to the housing developers.
This would be a double whammy for Leckhampton: not only would green fields be lost to the newly built school but more of the land agreed for development would then go to housing as the developer always wanted but this would now be in addition to the new school. Local Lib Dem councillors, LEGLAG, the Parish Council and Cheltenham Borough Council have all lined up to oppose the loss of green space and likely overdevelopment.
Unfortunately, local Conservative councillor Stephen Cooke has refused to oppose the county’s plan, describing it as the “lesser of two evils” and complaining that no-one had got the agreement of the developers!
Worse, since the county council own the land proposed for the new school, they are allowed to apply to themselves for planning permission to build it instead of to the usual local planning authority, Cheltenham Borough Council. But this decision will be carefully scrutinised by the plan’s opponents. In law, the county council must pay proper attention to the traffic problems too much development would cause, as well as to the emerging Cheltenham Local Plan, the previous Cheltenham Local Plan and the emerging Leckhampton Neighbourhood Plan, all of which would rule out the use of the protected green field site.
The county council’s summary of the situation can be found here but it contains fake news! It suggests that only one site was ever considered (not true, as the Cheltenham minutes show), that the site was previously identified for housing but this was “not taken up” (not true; the land had been earmarked for development until the plan for thousands of houses was ruled out by a government inspector) and that local Lib Dem councillor Iain Dobie supports the plan (not true; Iain welcomes a new school but has vociferously opposed the proposed green field site).
There have been some important developments in Leckhampton recently relating to local schools – and there are more to come.
Leckhampton CofE Primary School in Hall Road is an outstanding local primary school currently educating just over 430 local pupils under the leadership of popular headteacher Sam Porter.
Last April, Gloucestershire County Council proposed an increase from two to three forms of entry which would gradually increase the size of the school to at least 630 pupils from September 2019. The justification for this was increasing demand for primary school places in the local area although the actual model and assumptions behind this argument have proved infuriatingly difficult to extract from the county council. Nevertheless they insisted it showed sufficient demand within the immediate local area and no spare capacity at other local schools either so in May 2018 the council proceeded to consult with a wide range of stakeholders including parents, teachers and governors. 215 of the 372 respondents (58%) disagreed or strongly disagreed with the proposal. The most opposition came from parents (whether their children were at Leckhampton, pre-school or at another school). Staff and governors, by contrast, were strongly in favour but obviously fewer in number. Leckhampton with Warden Hill Parish Council opposed the plan.
The county council then published a statutory notice that it intended to proceed and conducted further consultation during which I took local parents concerned about the expansion to see the responsible Conservative county cabinet member, Cllr Lynden Stowe, along with education officers. It was good of him to meet us and discuss the plans but we never did get the really detailed modelling and assumptions behind the decision. On 23 November 2018 Cllr Stowe approved the expansion and this will now go ahead unless the necessary building to accommodate hundreds of extra pupils is frustrated by the planning process in which case a rethink will be necessary.
The usual planning authority in Cheltenham is Cheltenham Borough Council but on this occasion the county council has decided to apply to itself for planning permission. Astonishingly, the law permits this where the county council is itself the landowner. This is not a decision which will reassure local people concerned that the impact on the local neighbourhood – including its already very congested roads – will be adequately considered. Local Lib Dem county councillor Iain Dobie is working hard to see if mitigating proposals can be brought forward, such as a rear access route for walking and cycling from Burrows Field where there is already a pathway almost to the back of the school. Iain regularly updates his Facebook page with the latest school news. Latest news from the county itself can be found here and the background documents to their decision are here (click the tab for ‘supporting documents’).
There will be an open drop-in at the school on Wednesday 30 January 3:30pm – 7pm, when members of the public can view the building plans to be submitted for planning approval later this year.
Can I say thank you to everyone who voted in Thursday’s Cheltenham Borough Council elections and particular thanks, of course, to those who generously voted for me and placed me top of the poll in Leckhampton. Two seats were being elected here this time and the second went to Conservative Stephen Cooke, just 13 votes behind. Commiserations to the other candidates, in particular Glenn Andrews, the brilliant Lib Dem candidate who worked his socks off in the ward and has promised to keep working hard for local people, and also sitting councillor Chris Nelson who lost out to his Conservative colleague by just 2 votes. Thanks to him and retiring independent councillor Ian Bickerton for all their work for Leckhampton.
Across the town it was a great night for the Lib Dems. Despite already holding nearly three quarters of the Borough Council’s 40 seats, we made three gains and increased our total to 32. The Conservatives now hold 6 seats and the People Against Bureaucracy 2.
The full result in Leckhampton was:
Martin Horwood, Liberal Democrats 1,082
Stephen Cooke, Conservative 1,069
Chris Nelson, Conservative 1,067
Glenn Andrews, Liberal Democrats 834
Votes spoiled: 1 Voter turnout: 52%
Councillor Max Wilkinson has been elected by local Liberal Democrat members as their new parliamentary candidate.
Former Lib Dem MP Martin welcomed the news: “Max is a terrific local campaigner, a good friend and he works to get things done. Unlike the Conservative MP, he lived and worked in Cheltenham before becoming a parliamentary candidate here. He’s already working hard for local people as a member of the borough council. I have every confidence that with Max in the lead, we can close the slender gap between us and the Conservatives at the next General Election, whenever it comes.”
“Cheltenham badly needs a new voice for tolerance, internationalism and openness in Parliament, and the country badly needs an alternative to this shambolic, divided government which is going to drive us over the cliff-edge of a very hard Brexit. So that election can’t come soon enough.”
The campaign group Keep The Ban (http://www.keeptheban.org.uk/) are asking all parliamentary candidates to commit to keeping the hunting ban if they are elected on 8 June. And Cheltenham’s Liberal Democrat candidate Martin Horwood has been quick to sign the pledge.
The Conservatives have again said they will bring forward a vote on repealing the hunting ban, on which MPs are traditionally allowed a free vote.
Cheltenham’s Liberal Democrat candidate and former MP, Martin Horwood, has been quick to sign the pledge and put this video on social media this morning: https://twitter.com/ClareSoftley/status/864423997542457344.
Martin said: “We were warned that the hunting ban would wreck the rural economy, stop even the valuable social side of hunts and make it impossible to protect livestock. None of that turned out to be true and I don’t think Parliament should go back to condoning the hunting of animals for fun.”
Martin took up many animal welfare causes as an MP, many in conjunction with Cheltenham based charity Naturewatch (naturewatch.org). He successfully campaigned for more money for alternatives to animal research, voted for the ban on wild animals in circuses, supported the international whaling ban and opposed the badger cull in Gloucestershire and elsewhere. In 2009 he was voted Animal Welfare Champion by fellow parliamentarians of all parties at the Dods political awards.
Martin added: “At the Trinity church hustings in 2015, all the parliamentary candidates were asked to say yes or no to keeping the hunting ban. Alex Chalk famously replied ‘free vote’. Well, we all know it’s a free vote but that was just dodging the question! We then found out he was being actively supported by members of the Vale of White Horse Hunt, North Cotswold Hunt and the pro-hunting organisation Vote OK – so it’s pretty clear where he stands on this issue. The question is: will he have the courage to say so this time?” (He didn’t. Despite again receiving active support from hunt members, Alex Chalk replied ‘pass’ to the same question at the same hustings in 2017!)
The Liberal Democrats have announced they would plug funding gaps for the NHS and social care by putting a penny on income tax, in their first major manifesto commitment of the election campaign.
The tax would raise an additional £65m for Gloucestershire, with £42m for the NHS, including mental health, and £23m for social care each year.
This is the party’s flagship spending commitment and its first major policy announcement for the election. The Liberal Democrats will also set out a ‘five-point recovery plan’ for NHS and social care services in their manifesto.
At least 70% of Brits would happily pay an extra 1p in every pound if that money was guaranteed to go to the NHS, an ITV poll found last October (link).
Former Liberal Democrat MP and now parliamentary candidate, Martin Horwood, said:
“This morning in Gloucester the waiting time to be seen by a doctor or nurse hit a staggering six hours while Cheltenham A&E was still turning away ambulances until half an hour ago because of the night-time downgrade. This can’t go on. It’s blindingly obvious we need two fully-functioning A&E departments in this county and that Gloucester Royal just can’t cope on its own at night.”
“This is a national problem as well as a local one. Our NHS Trust isn’t the only one that has plunged into deficit in the last two years of Tory government. And the Conservative candidate here voted for all the spending plans and Budgets that are making this happen. He didn’t even mention Cheltenham A&E in Parliament for the best part of two years.
“The Liberal Democrats are prepared to be honest with people and say that to secure the future of the NHS we will all need to chip in a little more.
A penny in the pound here could be used be to pay hard-to-recruit rates and get the doctors we need into both A&Es, while the extra money for social care would ease pressure on the NHS too. Only the Lib Dems seem to want to make this happen.
“This Conservative government has left our health and care services chronically underfunded – and while the crisis gets worse they just don’t seem to care.
“We cannot continue asking the system to deliver more and more without giving them the resources they need.”
Liberal Democrat Health Spokesperson and former health minister Norman Lamb said:
“The NHS was once the envy of the world and this pledge is the first step in restoring it to where it should be.
“A penny in the pound to save the NHS is money well spent in our view.
“But simply providing more money on its own is not enough and that’s why this is just the first step in our plan to protect health and care services in the long-term.”
- The Liberal Democrats manifesto will set out a ‘five-point recovery plan’ for NHS and social care services. This will include a 1% rise on the basic, higher, additional and dividend rates of income tax in the next financial year raising around £6bn per year, which will be ringfenced to be spent on NHS and care services and public health.
- A regional breakdown of how the £6bn would be distributed, based on current funding allocations for both the NHS and social care, can be found here
- Emergency departnment (A&E) waiting times at Gloucester Royal and Cheltenham General can be checked online here
- Alex Chalk’s failure to mention Cheltenham A&E in parliament until 11 January 2017 can be checked on the independent website theyworkforyou.com. He is no longer technically the MP following the dissolution of Parliament for the election.
Former Cheltenham MP Martin Horwood has signed the national petition calling on the Conservative MP for Tatton, former Chancellor George Osborne, to resign following his appointment as editor of the London Evening Standard.
The petition on campaign website 38degrees now has 189,000 signatures. The website highlights the impossibility of Mr Osborne doing a proper job for his constituents as well as that of editor of a major newspaper. It also points out the inevitable conflcits of interest.
‘I always found being Member of Parliament was more than a full-time job and I certainly won’t take a second one if I’m elected as MP for Cheltenham again in the future. Some of George Osborne’s appointments – such as chairman of the Northern Powerhouse Partnership which he championed as Chancellor, don’t seem that inappropriate,’ commented Martin ‘but taking a one-day a week job advising an American fund management firm and then taking the editorship of a major newspaper as well is just taking the mickey. If I was one of his constituents I’d want my money back.’
Mr Osborne is reputed to be earning £650,000 for the one day a week job with fund managers Blackrock.
‘MPs earn a good enough salary at £75,000 a year’, added Martin. ‘I know my successor as MP for Cheltenham has earned nearly £4,000 on top of that as a London barrister since being elected in 2015. I understand he wants to keep his hand in. But that’s small beer in comparison to the sums George Osborne expects to rake in when he should be representing his constituents. It’s simple, old-fashioned greed and he should resign. And in any case, how he can possibly be an independent editor, holding ministers to account, while taking the government whip in the Commons?’
- The 38degrees petition can be seen at https://you.38degrees.org.uk/petitions/george-osborne-pick-a-job
- Alex Chalk MP’s outside earnings are declared in the Register of Member’s Interests which can be seen on theyworkforyou.com at https://www.theyworkforyou.com/mp/25340/alex_chalk/cheltenham. Earnings marked “0 hours since election” are discounted from the £3,941 total earned since the election.
68 EU nurses, doctors and other staff nurses quit Gloucestershire Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust in 2016
The Liberal Democrats have called for an “NHS Passport” to secure the rights of EU nationals working in the NHS, as figures have revealed a sharp rise in staff from the EU in Gloucestershire quitting the health service.
68 EU nurses, doctors and other staff left the NHS here in 2016, just over double the figure two years ago. The number, obtained in a freedom of information request by the Liberal Democrat party, includes 26 nurses, 26 doctors and 16 other staff and covers the period leading up to and including the Brexit referendum. The sharpest rise was between 2014 and 2015, the period covering the General Election campaign and the announcement of the EU referendum but 2016 saw the total number rise even higher.
Separate figures from the Royal College of Nursing have shown the number of EU nationals registering as nurses in England has dropped by 92%, while there are 24,000 nurse jobs unfilled in the NHS.
The Liberal Democrats have called for an immediate guaranteed right to live and work in the UK for all EU citizens working in NHS and care services, in a motion passed by members at the party’s Spring Conference this week.
Cheltenham’s Liberal Democrat parliamentary candidate Martin Horwood commented:
“These figures are really alarming and show the significant support that EU nationals provide for the NHS is at real risk. It’s quite possible that the anti-European rhetoric of the General Election and Brexit referendum campaigns have played a big part in this sharp rise by making NHS workers from the rest of the EU feel so unwelcome.
“My own message to EU workers in the local NHS is ‘Please stay. Our health service needs you.’
“The Conservative Government’s heartless and divisive approach to Brexit risks driving away the hard-working nurses and doctors on which Cheltenham General and other local hospitals rely. And their reckless decision to abolish bursaries for student nurses has led to a huge fall in the number of people studying to become nurses.
“If I’d voted Leave on the basis that Brexit would help the NHS, I’d be feeling pretty cheated by Boris Johnson and the rest right now.
“Theresa May must do the decent thing and give the right for EU nationals in Gloucestershire to stay, with an immediate guarantee for those working in health and social care.”
- The Liberal Democrat party obtained these numnbers through a Freedom of Information request:
|NHS TRUST||TOTAL EU NATIONALS LEAVING||EU NURSES LEAVING||EU DOCTORS LEAVING||EU OTHER STAFF LEAVING|
- Original Guardian story using national figures can be found here: https://www.theguardian.com/society/2017/mar/18/nhs-eu-nurses-quit-record-numbers