Plans to build a new £8m school in Theale have been abandoned in favour of creating additional school places elsewhere, West Berkshire Council is announcing today (Thursday 4 January).
Over the past four years West Berkshire Council has been working to increase the number of school places available in Theale. As a result of changes to the village’s population and the anticipated demand created by future housing there is a need to provide more primary school places in the area. A new school was planned but will not now be built following continuing delays by Theale Parish Council in making a decision on whether or not to relinquish its lease on vital land without which the school cannot be built. Instead, West Berkshire Council will look to increase capacity at other schools in the area.
Speaking about the decision Councillor Lynne Doherty, Executive Member for Children and Young People, said: “It is with regret that we have come to the conclusion that there is no realistic prospect now of delivering a new school in Theale. It is still our belief that the future education of Theale children is best met by a new school and we are deeply disappointed that despite so much hard work our plans cannot progress any further. We have the money, land and planning permission to deliver a new school and the support of the community for our plans.
“The provision of the land was agreed subject to Theale Parish Council giving up its lease and accepting replacement land. It said a decision would be made after we got planning permission for the replacement playing field. This was secured in July last year and despite this no decision has been made on the lease. We have reluctantly accepted there is no more we can do to build the new school.
“Local people are supportive of our plans and I know they will share our frustration and disappointment. However, we have a duty to provide more primary school places and we cannot wait any longer. Our only option now is to increase capacity at other local schools and we will be drawing up our plans to do so in the coming months.”
Theale Primary School was built to have one new class of 30 pupils each year. Due to an increase in demand it has been using temporary accommodation to take up to 45 new pupils each year while a permanent solution has been found which would allow for two new classes each year (60 new pupils).
Since 2014 West Berkshire Council has been looking for a site for a new school in the village as there is not enough space to expand on the existing land. In total 11 different locations were considered and all but one were considered unviable. The only suitable site includes land owned by the Englefield Estate and leased to Theale Parish Council. The provision of that land to West Berkshire Council has been agreed in principle subject to Theale Parish Council relinquishing its lease on the land required. West Berkshire Council has been in lengthy negotiations to secure the land over the last 18 months but Theale Parish Council has continued to delay making any decision on the land it leases.
With the demand for school places increasing the need to provide additional school places is becoming more urgent. As a result, West Berkshire Council has decided to halt its plan to build a new school in the village and instead will invest the money in creating additional primary school places at schools outside the area. Arrangements will be made for Theale Primary School to return to an intake of 30 new pupils each year and those pupils whose applications are unsuccessful will be allocated places at other schools in the area.
West Berkshire Council has today written to Theale Parish Council confirming its decision to halt work on the new school. It includes an offer to reconsider the decision only if confirmation the land will be released is received by the end of January 2018. You can read the letter to Theale Parish Council online: http://bit.ly/2An5fjF