Fri, 23 Feb 2018
THE date has been set for a vote which could settle the row over where a new primary school should be built in Theale.
It took an hour-and-a-half of debate, cheers, jeers and rounds of applause – but Theale residents eventually decided on the all-important question they want to be asked.
That question, which they will vote on on March 15, is: “Should Theale Parish Council relinquish the lease on the land at North Street Playing Fields to allow a new primary school to be built on that site as per the planning consent?”
More than 150 people attended a public meeting at Theale Village Hall last Thursday to decide what question should go on the ballot paper for the imminent parish poll, which could resolve the issue that has divided a village.
Three suggested questions for the poll were put forward and all residents in attendance were asked to vote on which one they wanted by holding up a red envelope.
The clear winner was a slight rewording of a suggestion made to the audience by Reading West MP Alok Sharma, who chaired the meeting.
In total, 129 people voted in favour of the question above, while 44 voted against.
The two other proposed questions – “Should Theale Parish Council retain the lease on the North Street playing fields?” and “Should Theale Parish Council relinquish the land on the North Street playing fields” – were both voted down.
A number of people spoke at the meeting and outlined their concerns and support for the plan.
A minority felt that the word ‘school’ should be omitted as they were against the loss of the fields as opposed to the building of the school itself, while others felt the word had to be included for clarity.
The result of the poll is not legally binding and is only advisory, meaning Theale Parish Council still gets the final say, not the residents.
The parish poll must be held within 14 to 25 days of the question being decided and will appear on West Berkshire Council’s website.
Where to put the school is an issue that has sparked a war of words between the two councils and reportedly led to parish councillors being verbally abused in the street.
Most residents agree that a new school – or at least an expansion of the existing one – is needed to cope with an increasing demand for places.
But the parish council – and a number of residents – feel it is the wrong site for the school and have expressed concerns about road safety, parking and the loss of public space in the form of three full-size football pitches.
As a result, the parish council has so far refused to relinquish the lease on the land.
This prompted West Berkshire Council to issue an ultimatum – saying it would scrap the project altogether unless the parish council played ball and agreed to release the land.
A petition urging the parish council to release the land has been signed by more than 700 people, but a campaign group has also been set up urging the council not to.
Tensions between the two councils have reached boiling point, with Theale Parish Council claiming that West Berkshire Council had failed to engage in discussions about the school.
However, the district council hit back, accusing the parish council of “spreading misleading and inaccurate information”.