A CRUNCH meeting will decide whether a £400,000 windfall can be used for a primary school lift – despite complaints the cash was earmarked for another area.
It had been agreed in July to spend the £439,286 generated as a community benefit from a housing development on revamping two first floor classrooms at Castle Park Primary and boosting capacity at the school in Caldicot from September 2024. The work would also include the addition of a lift.
But Conservative members of Labour-led Monmouthshire County Council complained as the money has been paid by the developers of the Sudbrook Paper Mill site in the Conservative held Portskewett ward and said the cash should be spent at the Archbishop Rowan Williams Church in Wales primary in the village.
Labour cabinet member for education Martyn Groucutt has said increasing capacity at Castle Park, from 210 to 260 with 190 pupils currently on the roll, would address an “immediate need” for more places in the town, which is 2.1 miles away by foot from the Sudbrook Paper Mill site, but the Conservatives have said action is also needed at Archbishop Rowan Williams, which has 206 pupils at present but room for just 210.
Cllr Groucutt has also confirmed cash, paid by developers of two other housing schemes in the area, that could be worth £1.1 million will be allocated to Archbishop Rowan Williams school.
Tory councillors used the council’s “call in” process to ensure the cabinet’s July decision was reexamined by a cross-party scrutiny committee which decided the matter should now be considered by the full council. It could have accepted the original decision but independent councillor Simon Howarth voted with the four Conservative members to force a special meeting of the county council.
That will take place at County Hall, in Usk, on Thursday, August 31, at 2pm, where councillors will be asked whether they accept the decision made by the cabinet in July or they force it to reconsider. If councillors refuse to accept the decision they will have to give reasons why the cabinet should think again.
A report for the meeting states the scrutiny committee had rereferred the decision to the full council as the cabinet decision is “unfair to Archbishop Rowan School and the community of Portskewett”.
The report adds that choosing to spend the cash, which has already been paid into the council’s accounts, had been influenced by the need to spend the funding within 2023 and that council will also work with Archbishop Rowan Williams school to identify how the funding it is in line for could be used most effectively and, if necessary, to allow for a consultation to take place.
It has also been confirmed the terms of the Section 106 agreement, a legal deal tied to planning permission by which developers pay for community benefits, allow schools within the wider cluster to receive funding, rather than it being restricted to the ward where the housing has been built.
There are 22 Labour members and the group has a coalition with Green Party councillor Ian Chandler, who sits in the cabinet, while the other member of the Green Independent Group is council chair Meirion Howells.
There are 18 Conservative members and Cllr Howarth is one of four members of the Independent Group.