SCHOOL: Questions must be answered

An open letter to Steven Mason, chief executive of Northumberland County Council.

I’m writing about the worrying proposal of the council to close Vincent Edwards C of E School (Embleton School) against all apparent logic.

Sadly the council appears to be promoting a divisive battle between the villages of Ellingham and Embleton. That is most regrettable, but it is the case because the former is being promoted by the council as the place to which the children of the latter will be transported for education, against the wishes of not only the affected parents, but also the vast majority of the other citizens of Embleton.

Have you ensured that an exhaustive carbon study has been prepared to compare the options of Ellingham and Embleton school buildings to become the area’s primary school? If so, what has it concluded and might it be examined by the people of Embleton and their advisers?

Naturally such a study should take account of the planned growth of Embleton and Ellingham, and private and public transport to be utilised in conveying children to school. And, it should perhaps be noted, Embleton is on a bus route whilst Ellingham is not.

The second matter concerns the comparative costings for the development of the two buildings for use as the area’s primary school. Can you confirm that fully up-to-date and genuinely comparable development costs have been prepared for both and, if so, may we and our advisers see them?

I’d like to make a point about so-called sustainable communities. There is much debate, for all the right reasons in these days of climate change, about what makes a sustainable village. Why should we bus or drive children to school when they might safely walk? Embleton offers the option of walking to approximately 66 per cent of its pupil numbers. What is the comparable figure for Ellingham and what will it be when, or if, Ellingham is confirmed as the primary school?

Embleton is one of a very few north Northumberland rural villages which currently has a post office/village shop, a motor garage with shop, workshop, fuel pumps and bottled gas, a hotel, two pub-restaurants, a coffee shop, church, village hall, doctors’ surgery and, of course, a school – the very keystone of any near-complete community and the one which the council is proposing to remove.

Can you point to written evidence that this fundamental point, likely to affect the village by initiating its decline as a community, has been considered by the council in arriving at its proposal?

Given the amenities with which Embleton is favoured, it is hardly surprising that planning permission has recently been granted for the building of up to 50 further houses, a significant quota of which are designated affordable. Such a programme will increase the village’s housing stock by 15 per cent or so. Can you clarify whether the decisions to grant permissions were taken in the knowledge of a possible proposal to close the school? And, if permission was granted in such knowledge, was that shared with stakeholders?

Can you clarify whether the prospect of additional housing and the resulting growth in child numbers resident in Embleton were taken into account in arriving at the proposal for the school’s closure?

I do accept that the council’s director of education Andy Johnson is duty bound to do what he sees as right by way of his department’s responsibilities. Nevertheless, what is concerning is whether the council has properly taken account of the wider community issues.

As I believe that the right decision in matters like this one will emerge if all the relevant issues are properly examined, I’m sure that Embleton village’s school will, in due course, have its closure threat lifted.

However, I will be taking legal advice on local authorities’ procedures to try to ensure that they are being rigorously followed in the interests of the community of Embleton.

David RD Ainsley,

White Rigg, Embleton.