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Clash over new school in Theale

Councillor disputes use of compulsory purchase order

Application for Theale Primary School replacement submitted

THEALE parish councillors clashed over the future of education in the village, with one saying that there was no point in fighting a new primary school being built. 

West Berkshire Council wants to build an urgently-needed replacement for the Ofsted-rated outstanding Theale Primary School on land at the North Street playing fields.

But the issue is complicated as the land is owned by the Englefield Estate, which leases it to Theale Parish Council.

The parish council has refused to relinquish the land because of concerns over children’s safety.

It also believes that the site is not best suited to cope with additional traffic.

The parish council also feels that land offered to offset the loss was not suitable. 

Both councils are locked in negotiations, but the parish council’s unwillingness to release the land means that West Berkshire Council must carry out a compulsory purchase order (CPO) on the site.

The district council has said that funding for the CPO and delayed construction costs, estimated at around £85,000 to £100,000, will have to be clawed out of the existing budget.

And there was a clash of opinion over the parish council’s stance at a meeting last Monday when councillors were asked to grant the clerk, Jo Friend, permission to seek legal advice over the CPO.

Newly-elected parish councillor Paul Clifford objected to the move, saying: “I don’t see the point of fighting. I would ask you to consider how you are handling the CPO and to work with other parties to get a better outcome.”

Mrs Friend said that advice needed to be sought as the parish council has never dealt with a CPO before.

She said: “It’s not about fighting or supporting, it’s about getting legal advice and making sure what we are doing is correct legally.”

“We would be negligent if we didn’t,” added David Wood.

Chairwoman Becky Williams explained that councillors could only discuss what was on the agenda and that new councillors didn’t know everything about the situation.

“The best thing we can do is arrange a meeting to sit down and have a chat and bring you up to speed,” she said.

Mr Clifford asked whether the parish council’s position could be discussed at a future meeting.

He added that he disagreed with the parish council spending money in relation to the CPO and asked how much was budgeted.

He was told by Mrs Friend that there was no budget as she needed to be granted permission to assess costs. “It’s not an uncapped budget... [and] this is not a blank cheque,” Mrs Friend said.

Parish councillors voted to grant Mrs Friend permission to seek legal advice.

Mr Clifford and new parish councillors Dan Baker and Darren Lye abstained.

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