A £400,000 windfall from a village housing development will be spent revamping classrooms at a school in a neighbouring town.
The cash has been handed to Monmouthshire County Council by the developers of homes built at the former Sudbrook Paper Mill, and will be spent bringing two classrooms at Castle Park Primary School in Caldicot back into use to boost its capacity from September 2024, from 210 places at present to 261.
However the cabinet has been accused by the leader of the council’s Tory opposition of taking the £439,286 from the Conservative-held Portskewett ward and spending it in an area represented by the ruling Labour group.
That was denied by the cabinet member for education, Labour councillor Martyn Groucutt, who said Archbishop Rowan Williams Primary in Portskewett is set to receive more than £1 million from other housing developments nearby.
It is in line to receive £811,000 from a development at Crick Road and £345,000 from new housing at Church Road, but that money hasn’t yet been received by the county council, with the cash from the Sudbrook Paper Mill site already in the council coffers.
Cllr Groucutt also said that Castle Park is the nearest non-faith school to the paper mill development, and told Tory leader Richard John: “Many people will not choose a Christian-based school for their children.”
Cllr John said that Archbishop Rowan Williams School – named after the former Archbishop of Wales, who Tony Blair nominated as the first Welshman to lead the Church of England as Archbishop of Canterbury – is currently at full capacity, and local parents do not have the choice of a faith school.
The Mitchel Troy and Trellech councillor was able to question the decision at the cabinet’s July 26 meeting, and told Cllr Groucutt: “You are taking money from the catchment school, that is full, and prioritising it for a school with 10 per cent surplus places and also taking from a Conservative ward to a Labour one that is represented by a cabinet member.
“How can you justify prioritising a school with 10 per cent surplus places over one that is full?”
Cllr Groucutt replied: “My decision is based solely on educational reasons and is not party political.”
The Section 106 agreement, a legal framework by which developers provide money for community benefits or to avoid negative impacts such as pressure on school places from new developments, allocated funding for both Castle Park and Archbishop Rowan Williams School.
Cllr Groucutt also said the anticipated growth in pupil numbers in Portskewett, from the Sudbrook development, hadn’t yet “materialised” and confirmed to Cllr John that six pupils from Sudbrook attend Castle Park, which is around two miles from the coastal village.
The Conservative councillor countered that a majority attended Rowan Williams School, but Cllr Groucutt said of 192 pupils from the Portskewett ward, 115, which he said is six in 10, attend Rowan Williams.
That worked out at 40 per cent of the ward’s pupils attending other schools, and Cllr Groucutt said Rowan Williams is set to receive 72 per cent of the total section 106 funding with some cash from the Welsh Government also expected.
The Labour councillor for Abergavenny said: “It could be argued given the balance of attendance from Portskewett ward that Archbishop Rowan Williams is getting more than its pupil numbers suggest it should and more than its fair share.”
The report to the cabinet stated the money at Castle Park will be spent refurbishing two classrooms currently used as art and music rooms, as well as enhancing other facilities at the school, “which will then release the current pressure on pupil places in the town schools”.
It also said the money has to be spent by the end of 2023, and if it isn’t will have to handed back to the housing developers.
The cash currently available wouldn’t provide “any significant impact on pupil places” at Rowan Williams School, it added.
But the combined funding from the other two developments will have a greater impact at Rowan Williams School, though it also warned there is a risk the amount from the Crick Road development could be reduced if the developers review their scheme due to market conditions.
The potential scale of work at the Porskewett school could also mean the council would have to hold a consultation on the plans.
Cabinet member for finance Rachel Garrick, who represents the Caldicot Castle ward, declared an interest and left the room during the discussion.