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Church school seeks safeguards from HS2 works

09 January 2015


Making tracks: the Prime Minister before the launch of the HS2 report last October

Making tracks: the Prime Minister before the launch of the HS2 report last October

THE closure of a Church of England primary school in Warwickshire could be the "unintended consequence" of the HS2 high-speed rail link between London and the Midlands, a Select Committee heard this week.

The Committee is sitting to consider petitions from people directly affected by the Bill; on Monday, its members heard from groups and organisations in the village of Burton Green.

A parish councillor, Marcus Stewart, said that construction work in Burton Green, during which the new rail line would be built in a "cut and cover tunnel", would begin in 2018, and would not be complete until 2025, after a two-year break expected in 2022 and 2023. "During that whole time the centre of the village will be a building site," he said.

Thea Gibbs, who formerly chaired the governors at Burton Green C of E Primary School, warned that the school could be forced to close if it lost pupils during the construction work.

The school has 100 pupils and an annual oversubscribed intake of 15 children from the village and surrounding areas. She warned, however, that the works would sever the school from the community and affect "families' perception of safety", leading them to send their children elsewhere.

"Once construction is under way, we think that properties will be harder to rent to families within the village," Ms Gibbs said. "This will mean that we will maintain a drop in pupil numbers.

"The impact here is a concern because small schools have very high-fixed costs. You have to put a teacher in front of a classroom even if it has only got ten pupils. You have to give them a teacher; you can't give them a third of a teacher.

"And the funding of schools is largely based on pupil numbers; so every pupil counts considerably for us. Each pupil brings in around £2500 of income per year; so that is the price on the head of any pupil that is withdrawn from the school."

She called on HS2 and the Department for Transport to agree to underwrite any losses caused by falling pupil numbers for the duration of the construction works.

Responding to the concerns, James Strachan QC, for the Department for Transport, told the committee that construction work would not have any impact on school safety or the ability of families to attend the school.

A temporary road would be built to replace the existing road through the village, and construction traffic would not use a single-track road that ran near the school, Mr Strachan said.

Only three houses in the village needed to be demolished for the scheme; and, while HS2 has acquired 15 houses under the "blight" scheme, eight of these had already been re-let.

Mr Strachan said that long-term impacts of the new line would be mitigated by a 100-metre extension of the tunnel through the village, and the construction of a new, community centre to replace one that would need to be demolished.

He said that HS2 now accepted that the new community centre shouldn't be built on school land, as it had originally suggested; and that a new site had been earmarked.

The Conservative MP Sir Peter Bottomley, one of the committee members, expressed support for villagers, describing Burton Green as "a special case" because it was the only community that would effectively be split in two by the work.

The committee is continuing to take evidence on petitions from people directly affected by the Bill. Its response to the petition from Burton Green School will be announced at a later date.

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