Waltham Forest Liberal Democrats have pledged to take immediate steps to sort out the schools places crisis if the party takes control of the council following the elections in May.
Labour has held the schools portfolio on Waltham Forest Council for over ten years. When Labour’s schools minister Ed Balls visited Walthamstow last Thursday (25 March) he blamed the council for the shortage of primary school places and refused to guarantee local schools the money they need to cope with extra pupils.
“The Secretary of State and the council’s Labour portfolio holder appear to be sniping at each other instead of taking the positive steps necessary to resolve the issue,” said local Liberal Democrat Leader Cllr John Macklin.
John Macklin today announced that a Liberal Democrat administration will:
- Be honest about the scale of the problem and publish full details of the school place forecasts, broken down by area.
- Examine what extra capacity is available in existing schools and how quickly it can be brought into use.
- Ensure developers contribute their fair share to the cost of providing new school places by negotiating effective S106 planning agreements when planning permission is granted – this recognises that pressure for new school places comes from partly from new housing developments.
- Identify what funding is required and lobby government to help meet any shortfall, so Waltham Forest is treated on a fair basis with Newham and other boroughs which have received much more funding from government.
- End uncertainty by publishing a clear plan of action which allows local residents and parents to understand what is being done to deal with the growth in the school pupil population and organise their lives accordingly.
John Macklin added:
“If it wasn’t for the questions asked by Liberal Democrat councillors, Labour would have swept this issue under the carpet until it was too late to take action. The shortage of school places is not an easy problem to solve because new schools cannot be built overnight and are expensive to build. But instead of the hand-wringing that Labour is indulging in we need clear leadership that is honest about the challenges we face.
“The actions I have set out today are just the first steps needed to get a grip on the situation.”
The scale of the problem was brought to light when Liberal Democrat councillors including James O’Rourke and Patrick Smith asked for a presentation to the Walthamstow West Community Council in February following an informal survey of headteachers in Higham Hill carried out by Lb Dem councillor Peter Woollcott.