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Updated: Are Housebuilders’ Contributions Genuinely Benefiting Schools in the Ash area?

Published on: 28 Jul, 2022
Updated on: 30 Jul, 2022

By David Reading

Campaigners have raised searching questions about large sums of money that house developers have provided to support schools in the Ash and Tongham area.

Their investigations, they say, have provided no evidence that the money is genuinely being used to benefit education – and there is a risk of it being spent on “the wrong things”.

Their fears stem from the rising population generated by large-scale developments in the area. The question is: Will schools be able to cope with the influx of large numbers of extra pupils?

Developers are obliged to support local infrastructure, including education, in Section 106 legal agreements with local authorities.

In the case of education, the money they provide is intended to facilitate extra school places that will be needed to address the growing population.

In the Ash and Tongham area, contributions have been allocated for pre-school and primary education but campaigners are worried that there appears to be no evidence that anything has been spent on schools.

Surrey County Council, as the Education Authority, says this is because the money is currently held by Guildford Borough Council until the education projects nominated come on stream. That is the point at which such sums are drawn down by the Education Authority.

Already, many of the hundreds of new homes earmarked for the area are occupied and those affected feel this is a pressing issue for today – not one that can be addressed further down the line.

Schools we spoke to were in the dark about what is happening.

The headteacher at Ash Grange, Mrs Marie Curtis, said: “To be straight we have received nothing to date. We could have used it over and over. It seems to be very unclear what is going on with earmarked funds.”

When an appeal was made for money for new gates to improve access at Ash Grange, the school was told there were no funds available.

Sophie Knight is an Ash Vale mother who is having trouble finding a place locally for her young son, who will be four in late August.

She is on the waiting list for several schools in Ash and Tongham, including Walsh Infants, Shawfield and St Paul’s, but the place she was offered was at Cross Farm, Frimley Green. She is a working mother who has to get her older daughter to school in Tilford.

“Cross Farm is 15 minutes away – longer in the rush hour,” Sophie said. “My school runs would be a complete nightmare as my daughter is in the opposite direction. I run my own self-employed business, I am limited on time and this school run would eat into my earnings and have an effect on my business that I have spent many years building.”

She added: “Many parents I’ve spoken to, who are in the same situation, have shocked me with their own stories, some being sent to schools up to 30 minutes’ drive away. It is all just insane and so unfair on our children.

“I’ve had conversations with school admissions and have just been told to sit and wait. But how long for? Anyone who moves into the area, if their address is closer to the school, will automatically take priority. This could go on and on and on.

“There are new builds going up everywhere yet there are not enough schools to meet the demand of the new families coming into the area, leaving locals like myself in the lurch not being able to get the education I want for my child.”

Surrey County Council, addressing the question of whether local schools may be reaching full capacity owing to the population increase, said: “Primary schools in the Ash and Tongham area have places in the majority of their current year groups.

“Surrey continues to monitor admissions into schools for late applications and pupils moving into the area, to ensure every child is offered a school place within a reasonable distance of their home, although this may be outside the immediate area where schools are already full.”

The statement said: “A date for permanent expansion at Ash Grange Primary School is still to be confirmed. The Education Authority have to balance such an expansion against the need for places in the long term, whilst being careful not to over-provide school places that could lead to instability in the area.”

Campaigners say they have a complete record of what should have been paid and delivered for local education purposes, and they have posed the question: is the money contributed by developers genuinely being used to benefit education in the Ash and Tongham area?

Sue Wyeth-Price, a member of the committee of Ash Green Residents’ Association (AGRA), said: “For pre-schools, there are nine developments which between them should have contributed more than half a million pounds.

“All of them have passed their trigger points, the point at which money is supposed to have been handed over. In a report presented in April, Guildford Borough Council defines the money as ‘spent’. This means that it has been handed to Surrey County Council, not that SCC have spent it. Our concern is that it may be spent on the wrong things.”

She added: “Obviously, the money is somewhere. Either it is still with the developer, or with GBC or with Surrey, or has been spent on other things and residents don’t have the benefit. These are the questions we want addressed.”

Strongly denying that there is a problem, SCC said both councils employ monitoring officers who ensure that all Section 106 contributions are spent correctly. The proposed spending on a nominated project cannot be changed without the specific agreement of the local planning authority and the developer that has provided the money.

The rules state that the developer can claim back any money not spent on the projects specified in the agreements. As the contract is between GBC and the developer, then the developer would have to reclaim it from GBC. In such a scenario GBC would in turn reclaim the contribution from the county council.

Sophie Knight said: “I have been a resident of Ash my whole life. It’s been a great area to live in but it’s becoming more and more of a nightmare. I know many long-term local residents also feel the same way. These new builds are ruining the area.”

Asked to comment on Section 106 contributions for education, GBC’s lead councillor for Development Control and Enforcement, Cllr Tom Hunt, said: “As the Local Planning Authority, we negotiate Section 106 payments with developers. The payments reflect the requirements of the county council and other public bodies. In this case, SCC is the education authority and they will decide how they spend these Section 106 contributions on education.”

Have you experienced problems getting your child into school in the Ash and Tongham area? If so, please leave a comment.

 

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