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of any pupil that is withdrawn from the school."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.