Review into Croft school consultation blames council for residents’ disquiet (From Swindon Advertiser)
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Review into Croft school consultation blames council for residents’ disquiet
AN INDEPENDENT review has criticised Swindon Council over its ‘confused’ public consultation on Croft School – blaming it as the source of residents’ grievances.
The 420-pupil primary school, off Marlborough Lane, opened to its first intake of reception pupils in September.
Residents had claimed it was in the wrong site and said the council did not listen to their concerns, and did not answer their questions.
Now an independent review group, set up by the children and young people’s overview and scrutiny committee, has concluded the council did not fail to follow the statutory process, or attempt to mislead, but at times its consultation was ‘at best confused’.
Following calls from opposition groups, an independent review, chaired by businessman Keith Carby, was set up into procedures for opening and closing schools, focusing as examples on Croft School and Northview Primary School, in Highworth.
The report, discussed by councillors last night, found that Croft residents lost faith in the integrity and transparency of the process, because Cabinet had clearly decided to build the school at Croft in June 2010.
But the council then started a statutory consultation and asked questions which made residents feel they were still in the process of deciding the best location.
The report states: “As soon as a decision on location for the school had been taken, it should have been made clear that the consultation was about a number of important factors relevant to the safe and successful operation of the school, but not the decision to site the school at Croft. This would not have meant the suppression of views challenging the decision.
“In the case of Croft School, the consultation process became confused because there was insufficient clarity about which questions were being put to the public at which points.
“There was always the potential for problems, if for example the public was being asked, ‘Should we have a school on the Croft site?’ at the same time as being asked, “What type of school should we have on the Croft site?’ Or, ‘What will be the traffic problems for the new school at Croft?’ “This problem was exacerbated by a few individual council members who, albeit unintentionally, confused residents.”
The review group, which found the council was diligent and rigorous in answering public questions, gathered evidence on Croft from several sources.
Coun David Renard, cabinet member for children’s services, said: “I think there’s maybe something around the type of questions we ask when we go out to consultation and being a bit clearer about what is and isn’t being consulted on.
“But otherwise, in every other respect, this report, as indeed all of the others, has vindicated the council in terms of its process and choice of site and answering all the questions being asked.”
Croft School campaigner Kareen Boyd, of Hesketh Crescent, said: “In my opinion, this is a shambolic state of affairs and does neither Swindon Council nor the public any service.
“Based on my initial read of this core report it relies upon unsubstantitiated events.
“An independent external review would have worked to a fixed budget and timelines, to agreed terms of reference, have ensured consistent treatment of all contributors and provided output to accepted professional standards with clear authorship and sign off.
“It will be instructive to learn what action committee members will take at this juncture.
“When I have received a hard copy of all paperwork and have had time to read this I will provide specific detailed feedback and questions.”