Tory MP demands answers over Calderdale school rebuild snub

MP Craig Whittaker stages rooftop protest.
MP Craig Whittaker stages rooftop protest.

Education Minister David Laws has rejected claims that he is blocking plans to fund the rebuilding of two West Yorkshire secondary schools which the local MP described as being in a mess.

Craig Whittaker, the Conservative MP for the Calder Valley, demanded answers in Parliament over why Todmorden High and Calder Valley High, in Mytholmroyd, had missed out on Government funding intended for buildings in the worst condition.

He said: “The problems at the two schools have been extensive with gas leaks, electricity substations replaced, sewer collapses, banisters on stairwells too low for health and safety, heating systems that are so old that at one end of the building it is like a sauna and the other end it is like a freezer, asbestos, prefabricated buildings that are a couple of decades past their usable life, mould, water retention behind rendered walls, crumbling windows and crumbling windowsills, as well as the fact that both schools battle the blight of flat roofs that need constant repairs and leak like sieves.”

Speaking in an adjournment debate last night Mr Whittaker questioned the property surveys the Department for Education (DfE) had used to decide which bids received Priority Schools Building Programme (PSBP) funding.

He also suggested Mr Laws was preventing another survey of Todmorden High being carried out.

Mr Whittaker said: “The Prime Minister’s office has said that it would ask for a re-survey. The Secretary of State [Nicky Morgan] has said that she will ask for a re-survey. Even the surveyors have said they will doanother survey. The problem appears to be that the Minister seems to be blocking this.”

The Prime Minister’s office has said that it would ask for a re-survey. The Secretary of State [Nicky Morgan] has said that she will ask for a re-survey. Even the surveyors have said they will doanother survey. The problem appears to be that the Minister seems to be blocking this.

However Mr Laws said this was not the case. The Liberal Democrat Schools Minister said: “I would like to make it clear that I, as the minister responsible for the capital programme, have not resisted any proposals that have been put to me in relation to buildings in my honourable friend’s constituency, or any proposals from anybody in the Government.”

He said the two schools bids had not been successful because it had been judged that other schools had building blocks in worst condition.

Todmorden High and Calder Valley High missed out on both the first and second waves of PSBP funding.

Mr Laws said that in the second phase the DfE had allowed schools to bid for individual building blocks rather than whole school bids.

He said that of the 1,299 schools that applied, 277 have been successful, which means more than 400 school blocks will have their needs addressed.

He added that this included a rebuild of another school in Mr Whittaker’s constituency, Cragg Vale Primary, where a retaining wall had been condemned and there had been no viable repair.

Mr Laws added: “Sometimes more significant structural issues are not automatically visible to those of us who are not experts in such matters, so a school may look in a better state superficially, but have a higher condition need.”

Mr Laws said that the Government provided additional capital money outside of the PSBP. He said that between 2011 and 2018 Calderdale schools will receive £22m for maintenance of the school estate.

Opening the debate Mr Whittaker had said that his predecessor Labour’s Christine Mc Caffery had tried in vain for 13 years to get Todmorden High and Calder Valley rebuilt but they did not meet the criteria for the Labour Government’s Building Schools for the Future programme.

He said both schools were a mess and that Todmorden High was costing the DfE £250,000 a year in unexpected repairs.

Last month he staged a roof-top protest at the school after it emerged that both Todmorden High and Calder Valley High were not going to receive PSBP funding.