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Council says compulsory purchase order for new school in Theale is "unviable"

Councillor explains decision for abandoning power to build new primary

Council says compulsory purchase order for new school in Theale is "unviable"

FORCING through a new primary school in Theale is now an “unviable option” West Berkshire Council has conceded. 

Unable to reach an agreement with Theale Parish Council, the district council voted to grant itself the power to issue a compulsory purchase order (CPO) to aquire the land for the school in 2016.

At the time, the council’s executive for children and young people, Lynne Doherty (Con, Northcroft), said that the council had no choice but to pursue the option.  

She added: “We remain undeterred in our ambition to deliver the best possible education in Theale and are still committed to our plan for the village.”

But continuing delays have resulted in the council halting the CPO as it could take several years to complete and at a considerable cost to the taxpayer.

Speaking to the NWN, Mrs Doherty said that the complicated procedure would have overtaken the need for school places needed by 2019. 

Mrs Doherty said that work on the CPO had been on-going since 2016 as the council could not afford “to sit back and wait”.

At the time, the council estimated between £85,000 to £100,000 would be incurred through the CPO and delayed construction, which would have to be clawed out of the existing budget.

The project contained a five per cent contingency to cover any unforeseen construction problems.

The council said that, though undesirable, these extra costs could be underwritten by the contingency.

The council has previously stated that it needed to open the new school by September 2017 or risk losing £7m of government funding.

And, in May last year, the council said it was “suprised and disapointed” to lose out on a £1.4m education payment from the developer of the 325-home development at Lakeside.  

The Planning Inspectorate said that the council had been unable to demonstrate a need for the funding, while the developers questioned their need to pay when government funds were available. 

However, Mrs Doherty said last week that the capital funding for the school had been set aside in the council’s budget.

She said: “What the risk is for us is costs continue to increase and with every delay we are seeing building costs rise.” 

Indeed, the opening date for a new school in Newbury, Highwood Copse, has been delayed by a year following “increased costs” from contractor Kier, which also has the contract for Theale Primary School.

When asked about costs at Theale, Mrs Doherty said: “You pay up to a certain point for each piece.

“There will be an escape clause but we don’t want to use it.

“We have set aside £7.9m.

“Until we actually go out to the market place that won’t be confirmed.

“They are usually pretty accurate, which was the surprise or disappointment about Highwood, because they are normally pretty accurate.

“We would have to make a commercial decision on whether to go back, like Highwood, or find additional capital, but at this stage it’s impossible to say.” 

A nine- to 12-month build is expected for the project, with Mrs Doherty saying that the school could “potentially get finished” in time for 2019, if Theale Parish Council releases the land at the North Street playing fields by the end of this month. 

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