Proposed Hove school brings need for leadership to head

Posted On 24 Jul 2012 at 9:34 am

The parents behind the proposed King’s School have helped crystallise a number of important issues.

They may inadvertently force decision-makers to settle matters that have festered, in at least one case, for more than a generation.

They want to open a free school and their application has been approved by Education Secretary Michael Gove.

And they want their school – a church secondary school – to be built on the King Alfred site on Hove seafront.

Council covid support

Michael Gove

Central Hove is short of a secondary school. It is not the only part of Brighton and Hove to need one. Whitehawk, Kemp Town and seafront Brighton are also poorly served.

But the burgeoning number of young families in Central Hove is placing existing primary and secondary schools under growing pressure.

The site preferred by Brighton and Hove City Council to serve the growing school age population living in Hove is at Toad’s Hole Valley, by the Brighton bypass.

This part of Hangleton already has two secondary schools near by – and nearer to the seafront – with Blatchington Mill and Hove Park cheek by jowl.

With the draft City Plan setting out hopes of building 700 homes at Toad’s Hole Valley and 400 on the King Alfred site, the need for supporting infrastructure becomes harder to ignore.

And one of the most important items of infrastructure, even if no new homes are built, is a new school.

Neither the King Alfred site nor Toad’s Hole Valley feels big enough when new homes are factored in. And at the King Alfred the council wants a replacement swimming pool and leisure centre too.

Consultation on the draft City Plan ended yesterday (Monday 23 July).

There are those who would ignore the King’s School and the people behind it and those who actively oppose them.

Some dislike the idea of a church school in an increasingly secular age where science and scepticism reign.

Others are unhappy with the idea of anyone other than the council setting up or running a school.

And concerns remain about free schools and accountability.

But obstructing its opening, particularly when there is no viable alternative, would be a betrayal of our children.

The King Alfred Leisure Centre

The council has indicated that it has no money to build a new school and that the government has given it little room for manoeuvre.

It may try to get round the rules by designating any new school at Toad’s Hole Valley an annex to an existing school. It may not be an ideal solution but it could be a pragmatic one.

Ministers, meanwhile, have been giving active encouragement to people proposing free schools. And some of these groups do have the capacity to raise funds.

The King’s School is supported by the Russell Education Trust and the Church of England. Neither has yet said what level of investment it is prepared to make in Hove.

If either or both organisations will spend, the council should seize the day.

New homes, school places and the future of the King Alfred all need joined up decision-making.

There is land on one side of the King Alfred Leisure Centre that has been underused for years and on the other side land that is disused and has been for years.

Planned properly, a school could occupy part of the site.

Other options exist although lead-in times are a factor that will need to be borne in mind.

One option is having a school by Hove railway station once again as land on either side of the railway line is redeveloped, including the Conway Street bus depot. It would be near many young families.

Another is to switch some of the housing allocation from the King Alfred to the Hove station development area to make more room for a seafront school.

Or a replacement leisure centre could be built nearer the station rather than on its current site.

The council should show leadership and produce a well co-ordinated development brief for the station area.

It ought to bring the various site owners and developers together – perhaps for a seminar – and encourage communication, including with each other and the public.

As for the King Alfred, several schemes since the late 1960s have tried to cram too much on to the site and build too high.

Local people’s views have been ignored. Time and again they have campaigned against inappropriate applications.

The King’s School is due to open its doors in just over a year. Whether or not it opens on the King Alfred site, much needs to be done in a short space of time.

 

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