Public Meeting for the Shrubberies Hill Planning Application

Tomorrow, or today – if you are reading this on the 31st – is the public meeting on the proposed mixed use application along Shrubberies Hill.

This meeting will be held at the Public Hall and will start at 6pm. The meeting will be run by Cornwall Council. Porthleven Town Council have also been invited to attend. I expect a packed house for this meeting which will allow those present the ability to give their views on the application. This will help Porthleven Town Council’s planning committee and Cornwall Council’s West Planning Committee reach a decision on the application.

Ultimately it will be the members of Cornwall Council’s West committee who will make the final decision on this application.

I would urge anyone interested in this application to give up an hour or two of their time and attend.

See you there.

Helston College C-Block

Earlier this month I explained that there was a problem identifying the funding needed to resolve the issues at Helston College’s C Block? I said then that the Council was working with the College and other partners to identify the best way forward.

While I had not intended to say anything else until there was a clear plan in place, over the past few days I have been contacted by a number of people who are concerned by some of the things which have been said about the situation and want to know what is happening.

I would, therefore, like to take this opportunity to clarify some of the misinformation and outline what is being done behind the scenes to resolve this important issue.

The facts are that the Council’s Cabinet met in July 2012 to discuss the various options surrounding C-Block.

These options were:

Option 1 – Repair Solution Based on Summer Holiday Working Only

There are two solutions for the roof works, being either overlaying the existing covering and re-using the existing internal RWPs, or a complete redesign of the existing roof discharging water to RWP’s on the external perimeter.

There are two solutions for the curtain walling replacement, being either replacing the ground floor ceilings perimeters only and retaining the majority of the ACM boards, or removing the ground floor ceiling complete and replacing with new suspended systems.

Cost of Works Total

Overlay existing roof £490,500.00 or Redesign roof £662,200.00

Curtain Walling Perimeter ceiling £2,019,200.00 or Curtain Walling Entire ceiling £2,730,600.00.

Option 2 – Complete Refurbishment Solution Vacating the Whole Block
This option is based upon carrying out a complete refurbishment of Block C to achieve 20-year life expectancy. C Block would be vacated and temporary accommodation provided for the duration of the contract. To achieve this programme the enabling works (temporary car park) would be undertaken as a separate contract to the main works.

Cost of Works Total Refurbishment £6,963,200.00

Option 3: Complete refurbishment solution, partial vacation – costs are inline with option 2

Option 4: Rebuild C Block (with no clear funding option)

Total cost of works £9,211,500 – £10,095,900.
This option is based upon demolishing C Block and replacing with a new building, providing equivalent facilities. The option can be progressed in one of two alternative ways.

One alternative is to construct the replacement building on the same site as the current C Block. Therefore, temporary accommodation will be required. The other alternative is to construct the replacement building on a different site and continue to use C Block as temporary accommodation throughout the new construction works.

At the meeting of the Cabinet in 2012 Members decided to go with Option 4.

In the report the Cabinet were advised on the financial matters. The report made it very clear that there was no funding in place at that time to carry out the scheme. As follows:

The total capital cost of the preferred option is in the range of £9.2m and £10.1m dependent on the actual final option selected. Currently, there is no provision within the existing capital programme for this scheme.

As you can see, when the decision was made to go with option 4, there was no clear idea on how it would be paid for. Furthermore, the funding of capital schemes for schools normally comes through Department for Education capital grant funding which covers capital maintenance and basic need. These allocations are to fund all Local Authority schools in Cornwall.

The allocations for recent years have been

  • 2011/12 LA Capital Maintenance £9,878,067
  • 2012/13 LA Capital Maintenance £6,886,597
  • This money is not for one school, however – it is for all schools in Cornwall. So if we wanted to use this money for C-Block, then there would be no money for any other school. Currently, there is around £54m worth of maintenance back-log in Cornwall’s schools. So it is highly unusual for the council to have to pay for a school rebuild. Furthermore, there is no guarantee the council will get more Capital Maintenance funding for 2014/15, and if the Council does, it will be less than previous years.

    Of course the Council could borrow the money. This could still be done, but to put it into perspective, the costs of repaying this “mortgage” would initially cost us £675,000 a year. While this amount would gradually reduce over time as the principal is repaid, the average costs over 40 years would be £465,000 p.a. Or you could do it over 25 years for around £800,000 p.a. With money as tight at the council, this would require some pretty drastic action in services/capital programme just to cover the loan costs.

    We could change the priorities for our existing building programme but funding the £10 million needed to re build C block would mean we would have to abandon one or a number of existing Council schemes. To find this money we would have to look at the larger areas of spending, such as maintaining other schools in need, repairing our roads or carrying our road safety schemes to reducing the number of houses for local people. Removing any of these projects would have huge repercussions on other services and plans.

    It is also important to recognise that Helston is one of five other schools that are in similar positions.

    Turning now to the actual recommendation that was made 12 months ago:

    The proposal to replace C Block of Helston Community College in accordance with Option 4 set out in this report is agreed in principle subject to approval of appropriate funding.

    That the options for funding the said Option 4 be noted and that the Director of Children, Schools and Families and the Head of Finance, in consultation with the Portfolio-holders for Children’s Services and Corporate Resources work up detailed proposals for funding the said Option 4.

    This decision was made 12 months ago. When I took over as the Portfolio holder two months ago I asked the question on what was happening at Helston College a month into the role. I was told that the issue of lack of funding is still the same as it was 12 months ago. You might ask what was happening for the 10 months before I took over the portfolio.

    As you know the council’s finances have had two further rounds of cuts since the original decision was made. So if the money was not available then, it is even harder to find now.

    I am a firm believer of keeping people informed. That includes the school. Both I and the Director of Children’s Services met with the Head and Deputy Head of Helston College a number of weeks ago to give an update. Of course they were very disappointed and wanted to know why it had taken a year (a very valid question) to come to this point. The Head asked if both I and the Director would come to the college and explain the position to staff. I agreed to attend. As you can imagine, it was not an easy meeting, but one that had to happen.

    Since then I have had calls about how it is shameful I have cut the funding. I would like to make it very clear that I have not cut any funding for Helston College. There has to be funding in place to be able to cut it and, as shown above, the original decision to go ahead with the proposed rebuild was made: in principle subject to approval of appropriate funding.

    One option is to lobby Government for some of the £50 billion that has been set aside for infrastructure projects like Helston College and other schools and we are working with the College and the local community on investigating this option.

    I am doing everything within my powers to sort this situation out as quickly as possible. But I do not have a magic wand, or a leprechaun’s pot of gold.

    I even blogged about the original decision HERE. And yes, I even mentioned about the money.

    I understand, and share, the frustrations which have been expressed by people over the situation we are in. I would like to end by making one final point. If you are going to sign up to a project, then surely it makes sense to actually identify the money first before a decision is made? I might like a supercar, but I don’t walk into a showroom to order it and then find I have no money to pay for it. Maybe the previous administration should have thought of that before it made its decision

    As I said before we appreciate that people in Helston are concerned about this. We are working to try and address the issues with C block and I will ensure that the local community is kept up to date with what is happening.

    For those interested, HERE is the original Cabinet report.

    I hope in writing this post, I have cleared up some of the issues surrounding C-Block.

    Up-lighting the Bickford-Smith Institute in Porthleven

    There has been a long-term aim of the Porthleven Lights Committee to up-light the Bickford-Smith Institute in Porthleven. This aim is well on the way to becoming a reality due to the co-operation between the Lights Committee, The Porthleven CIC and of course the Town Council who are custodians of the building.

    Last Saturday, Roger and Graham from the Lights Committee and myself and Damelza from the CIC spent a few hours investigating various lighting positions that will give the best lighting effect.

    The plan is to do the up-lighting in three phases. The first is the west face of clock tower, the second the side of the tower, and the third the rear of the building. This will result in the desired effect.

    The pictures below were taken at various angles, light settings and at different times.

    I hope you’ll agree that even at this early stage of getting the lighting angles right, the results are impressive.

    20130724-120907.jpg

    20130724-120919.jpg

    20130724-120945.jpg

    20130724-121000.jpg

    20130724-121012.jpg

    20130724-121025.jpg

    £18m of Government Money for Eight Cornish Primary Schools

    The (near) end of the week has resulted in some fantastic news for Cornwall and Cornwall Council from the Schools Minister, David Laws. This is the award of £18m in funding under the Targeted Basic Needs Programme.

    This money will provide 840 new school places in the following eight schools:

    Indian Queens Community Primary School and Nursery
    Mount Hawke Academy
    Nanpean Community Primary School
    Pondhu Primary School
    St Columb Minor Academy
    St Petroc’s C of E VA School
    The Bishops C of E Primary School
    Treleigh Community Primary School

    I feel this is brilliant news for the Council after all the hard work in submitting the bid. Amazingly, all eight schools were successful. The Council knows that there has been an increasing pressure on places in a number of areas on Cornwall. This money will enable the schools and council to create more places in these schools.

    Well done to everyone involved.

    Visiting Flashpoint Lifeskills Centre

    Recently, I had great pleasure in visiting the Flashpoint Lifeskills Centre in Bodmin. This facility is run by Cornwall Fire and Rescue Service, and offers hands on practical advice to children and to the learning disabled as staff and volunteers guide visitors through 12 scenarios giving practical advice on what to do if something goes wrong.

    During my visit, I took part in the 12 scenarios with children from primary schools in Polruan and Pelynt. The scenarios ranged from a cyclist involved in a collision with a car with part of the scenario having to make a simulated 999 call to one of the centres staff acting as an emergency call operator, beach safety, farmyard accidents and the dangers of a train level crossing.

    For me, it was great to see the children so animated and interested in all the different scenarios, and learning how they should deal with a range of potentially dangerous and hazardous situations at the Flashpoint Lifeskills Centre. This facility is hugely important and I would urge schools and any other community groups to contact them to arrange a visit.

    The centre is aimed at children (KS2 and above) and vulnerable people are guided around the sets by the team of trained volunteers and discuss and practice assessing risk and consequences. Courses last 2 hours and costs £3 per student (minimum charge of £36 applies). Accompanying staff are free of charge. The website with further information is HERE. And their Facebook page is HERE.

    The Staff:

    20130717-104149.jpg
    Making a 999 call:

    20130717-104206.jpg

    20130717-104217.jpg

    Public Meeting for the Shrubberies Hill Housing Development

    Due to the high number of planning consultation responses and the greater public interest, I have asked Cornwall Council’s planning department in conjunction with the West Planning Committee to organise a public meeting. This will enable the residents of Porthleven to give their views not only to Cornwall Council’s planning committee, but also to the town council.

    20130712-111150.jpg
    This meeting will take place on the 31st July at the Public Hall. The meeting will start at 6pm, and will go on till 9pm. All are welcome to attend. If you want to speak at this meeting, all you need to do is register to speak when you turn up at the event. The meeting will be chaired by the Chairman of the West Planning Committee. All the points raised will have the answers in the final report which will go to the planning committee.

    It will be the West Planning Committee who will make the final decision if these plans are approved or not. So it is important to turn up and give those views.

    Collin Brewer Resigns

    Within the last hour, the Monitoring Officer has confirmed to all Cornwall Councillors, that Collin Brewer has resigned as a Cornwall Councillor with immediate effect.

    The email is as follows:

    Dear Members
    I have today received the formal written confirmation from Councillor Brewer that he has resigned from Cornwall Council with immediate effect.

    Members will be advised in due course of the timetable for the Wadebridge East by-election.

    I hope with this resignation, this issue can now be closed allowing the Council, it’s Councillors and Officers, and partner agencies to get on with their respective roles.

    Collin Brewer is found to be in breach of the Code of Conduct

    Today, Cornwall Council released the long awaited report investigating one of its Councillors and comments made by this Councillor. The comments made by Councillor Brewer in an interview to Disability News back in May caused outrage, not just locally in Cornwall, but nationally too.

    The council received 180 complaints and was duty bound to investigate those complaints. From those complaints received, the Standards Boards found Councillor Brewer guilty of breaches of the Code of Conduct. The report can be found HERE. In censoring Cllr Brewer, the committee ruled that:

  • Councillor Brewer is to make a formal apology “as to the gross offensiveness of his comments and for the significant distress they have caused”.
  • Training will be arranged for Mr Brewer on the Code of Conduct and in dealing with the media.
  • While Mr Brewer remains a member of Cornwall Council he should not be allocated a seat on any of the Council’s Committees that deal or might deal with issues relating to disabled children or other vulnerable members of the community.
  • Mr Brewer should not be nominated as the Council’s representative to any outside bodies that are involved in the provision of services or support to disabled children or other vulnerable members of the community, either as their principal purpose or as part of their routine business.
  • Councillor Brewer will not have access to those parts of council premises from where services to disabled children are directly provided, managed or commissioned.
  • Under the current powers, the Council does not have the powers to suspend, or remove a Councillor from office for serious offences.

    I have also been told that Councillor Brewer has verbally resigned from Office. However, this is not official and cannot be official until Councillor Brewer writes formally to the Monitoring Officer. Once that letter has been received, then Councillor Brewer will no longer hold Office, and a By-election will be held for the vacant seat.

    The March of Academy Schools in Cornwall

    The number of academy schools in Cornwall has reached 50 (18% of schools). This either by the school taking on the lead and converting, or schools having to convert due to Ofsted. I can see the conversion rate rising due to the changes in Ofsted inspections.

    Out of the 50* schools which are now converted the split is as follows:

  • 34 primary (includes infant and junior) which equates to 14% of this school type
  • 15 secondary which equates to 48% of secondary schools
  • The actual number of children who are being educated under the academy system is as follows:

  • Primary – 8416 pupils (22%)
  • Secondary – 17,339 pupils (58%)
  • This makes the total number of our children and young people in the academy education system to be 25,886 which is 37% of all pupils.

    * Not including the PRUs (short stay) and includes one special school

    Will School Terms Times Change in Cornwall?

    Yesterday, the Government via the DfE announced it would allow all Local Authority schools to change – if they wish – their school term lengths and times from 2015. To date, the local authority is required to set term and holiday dates for community schools, community special schools, voluntary controlled schools, pupil referral units and maintained nursery schools. These powers of changing terms are already afforded to Academy Schools.

    To a point I welcome this news, as back in 2010 I started to ask the question on reviewing term times in Cornwall. I was told it was complex and would not be easy to do. In the end the idea – via the scrutiny committee – was not taken forward. However, it was agreed that work would be done on fixing the spring break. And from 2019 it was planned to have a fixed spring break.

    The point I don’t really welcome is there is the potential for school to have a multitude of different term times. Which if a family had children at different schools, could lead to difficulties during holidays and childcare. I know Academy Schools can do this already, but as yet, I don’t think any have changed their term times in Cornwall.

    I would have preferred a more holistic approach with the LA taking the lead in arranging the consultation, and if there is support for a change, implementing it across schools. These discussions would have to include the Academies, but they are not bound to take on any changes. Doing it this way, would give a more joined up approach to our schools. I guess the DfE thinks differently, which is nothing new.

    My view is any change should only be done for the benefit of the students. Others may argue that it could help with working families, the family holiday, childcare and for the economics of the area; like in tourism. A change nationally, might see the end of the six-week tourist season, to a more longer and beneficial economy.

    It should be noted, all schools have the power to set the length of the school day with no real restrictions on how long a day should be. The only restriction schools have is to have a minimum 190 school days in a year.