Schools modernisation plans on the rack. 16.08.11

It took me a few moments to comprehend why my porch floor was littered with envelopes and letters hours after the normal post had arrived.  I though the postman had lost the plot and dumped a whole sack of mail into my porch by mistake.  As I began to scoop them up and read Cllr A Halford on every one I realised that I was being petitioned over the Council’s proposal to close Argoed High School. I wondered, why me!  I am not on the Life Long Learning scrutiny committee and have no responsibility for any one else’s ward.  I counted them.  279 envelopes or letters, two of the letters used identical wording.  The same hand had addressed the documents to me and names and addresses of the signatories were clear to see.  No anonymity in this petition. I was seriously impressed as someone had taken hours to prepare what fell onto my mat.  I rang Cllr Nigel Steel Mortimer, my Group Leader and the Executive member for Life Long Learning and asked if he knew what was going on. He thought that every cllr would receive the same as there was a well orchestrated campaign to protest against any schools modernisation.  My respect for Nigel is strong and I try to be a team player but I was very concerned that yet again, this Authority under the faceless leadership of Cllr Woolley finds itself engaged in yet another major row and the back bench members are treated like mushrooms.  There has been minimal Group discussion that a schools modernisation exercise was taking place.  The first thing I recall was that the Director, Ian Budd was reported to be keen to close John Summers High School.  This created a huge furore which was well reported in the papers and then I learnt that a consultation process would begin. It seemed to my uninformed perspective; the consultation was the cart before the horse and introduced to head of the fury of the public.  Of course, I wait to be corrected.  Super schools, such as the one proposed in Holywell is the brain child of Welsh Government minsters.  I suppose it’s an attempt to escape the constant criticism of the poor state of many of our schools.  Such a school may have some impact on the many “temporary” classrooms that have been around for years and should be shut for good. The word “temporary” has lost its meaning, and Planning Committee members have begun to challenge why we should automatically renew planning permission every so often. I asked for a meeting between Education bosses and planning bosses as I wanted progress the future of these mobile constructions.  I was disappointed that Ian Budd the Director did not attend as I had wished but his officers gave us assurance that they too were working hard to find a permanent solution with such a tight budget from WAG: there was little room for manoeuvre.  I had invited another cllr from Buckley who expressed disappointment that there seemed to be no joined up thinking from the Education needs side when planning development is going to take place.  We had now agreed to hold regular talks so this is progress.  It seems that the Coalition is always on the back foot.  Months ago, my inbox was bogged down with pleas not to close down the physiotherapy unit at Deeside Leisure Centre. I was not even aware that this was going to happen.  My Group learnt by chance that subsidised music for schools was going to be seriously curtailed and that also caused uproar from disappointed parents. The original plan had to be rapidly re-jigged as we objected and won some small reprieve.  The Housing Stock Transfer Ballot Board is yet a further area of frustration for me as a member of the Housing Stock Panel charged with dealing with yet another WAG demand that we should give all our stock to social landlords. The deliberations have been dragging on for months causing uncertainly not to mention the time and money spent to achieve what WAG wants.  Give away millions worth of County assets for nothing.  Even some of the Authorities valuable land will be transferred too, losing Flintshire a further valuable asset if the tenants opt for a social landlord. Through no fault of any particular individual or consulting body, the Panel missed the 3rd August deadline to agree the Choices document and now the ballot will take place in 2012. weeks before our crucial elections.   When a letter arrived from the Chief Executive requesting a response on the draft Choices document requesting my response by 12th August, I saw red.  We are in recess. What is the hurry now that the ballot will be postponed?  As   part of a Project Board, I prefer to make any comments to the Board collectively rather than be required to report to the one individual who is known to favour transfer, lock stock and barrel.  Labour is having a field day over the continued drip drip of damaging comments to the press and who can blame them.  They ducked the opportunity of voting to remove Cllr Woolley from the Leadership of the Council for the simple reason the Coalition’s blunderings gave them much ammunition to taunt this Administration.  We are in politics, something which seems not to be understood by some officers.  With the May 2012 council election creeping ever nearer, this is no time to be balloting residents and undertaking a school modernisation programme.  It’s not the idea of reviewing the needs of our school children, which is necessary but the timing that is so naff!  In truth, as Flintshire continues to develop at a frightening pace, no Authority can stand still and frankly change is needed.  I do not think that there is enough effort being made to address the long term, critical overview that should range across all Directorates.  The road infrastructure has been groaning under ever increasing traffic for years and the 7 lane highway proposed by WAG came to a demeaning end.  People power caused that scheme to flop.  The Authority seems poor at what is called “helicopter vision” an ability to look at things from all perspectives!  The villages of Broughton and Penyffordd will soon be alive with construction traffic as both sites are due for the building of several hundred houses. The RAF Sealand site is now being actively developed and the task is so complex, responsibility has been given to one Planning Officer.  Up to 500 houses could be built on a site that is situated right at the start of the road over the bridge that goes to “no where”! The roads surely cannot cope with so many enormous developments.  I hope that the needs of potential pupils in this huge development will be addressed by our Life Long Learning officers and lessons will be learnt as a result of our recent meeting.  Planners and Educationalists must communicate at every stage. Labour has called for the full Council meeting on 17th August.  It’s seen as playing the political card as the public don’t want interference in their schools and Labour has much to exploit.  Yet again, through no fault of our own, because of seeming lack of foresight; Coalition members are in a cleft stick.  Be loyal and vote with the Executive member for modernisation to go ahead and thus lose hundreds of votes as a disgruntled electorate will surely take revenge.  We are being asked to stand firm and support our leaders.  “No army should run away at the whiff of grapeshot”! sort of thing.  But if supporting what seems to be a half baked idea demanded by Welsh Government could fatally harm members chance to be re-elected again, that’ s hard choice.  Fate has intervened for me. I will be on the operating table in Gobowen and out of the action. I will just say that I salute the commitment and energy that went into my 279 letters and petitions.  I will wager a large bet that the Argoed school will not close and that people power will win.

2 Comments

  1. Colin Hughes says:

    Re Flintshire Transportation. Penyffordd has been betrayed by Flintshire County Council and the Welsh Assembly Government with regards A55 Warren bank exits. Chester Rd, Penyffordd has now returned to being a trunk road in all but name even though we have a bypass. HGV traffic love Penyffordd village centre. Environment means nothing to FCC and WAG. Our Dad’s Army councillors just sit there taking whatever crap FCC through at us.

    An example of the hypocrisy of the current alliance. Cllr Sharps’ Northop Hall, no HGV, traffic bumps to stop speeding.

    Penyffordd open to everything at any speed.
    Gosafe are rubbish and NWP have stopped any meaningful traffic. The current alliance are just as bad as the previous Labour lot.

  2. Brenda Jones says:

    I am Labour through and through, but have connected with Alison this week. Why? Because on the eve of her operation she has found time to reply to a letter from my family in support of John Summers High School. Alison, just hope you got through it all. We went to the meeting today as protesters, and watched from the gallery. We are very glad there is a pause and a re-think on important aspects of the schools consultation. Just hope they develop some ‘helicopter’ vision and keep our school where it’s needed. Afraid we are very unimpressed with the meeting per se: after several councillors got to speak voicing concerns about what is mooted for their area, it was approaching time for some Deesiders to hold forth. Ann Minshull made some very good points, and two other councillors were at the ready. Then some wordy person named Robin stood up and said they should vote to go straight to the vote – things were becoming somewhat repititious was his gist. Result? They went to the vote, but the discussion around this took at least 10 mins. Now then, I was looking at the very large stopwatch at the front and realised that speakers were timed to have no more than 5 mins each. So in the same 10 mins of faffing about going to the vote our impassioned Deeside councillors could have spoken as the voice of their communities, but no. Democracy? Not really, not when it comes to a socialist heartland, not in that chamber. It would have made such a difference to the John Summers pupils in the gallery to have heard these councillors, but Mr. Guest had had enough (Robin – the spoilsport). Have never been to a County Council meeting before, but found it weird – or is it me? – that there should be so much camaraderie, not to say joviality, when they have in their hands matters of such import. Do they start out in more serious mode, then get immune after a while? Am seeing what might be a theme emerge re. John Summers High. We got disregarded today, not only in the Council chamber, but also in the TV coverage by both BBC (yes, BBC) and HTV. We don’t have the might of the Argoedians, but our children are just as important. Good luck, Argoed – and I hope we can have some of it!

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