Schools: can we raise a storm ?

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The first part of a letter from Sainsburt's Development Surveyor Colin Rimmer

The news that neither Sainsbury’s nor Tesco were going to go ahead with their plans for a supermarket in Rye, and instead were jointly selling the land they had – in the expectation they might get a better price for it as one lot – seemed to travel fast around Rye after the supermarkets wrote to each and every Town Councillor. But the Town Council has yet to leap into any sort of action, has very little power, and that has been the position since 1974 when local government was reorganised, and Rye ceased to be a borough council.

And Rye must feel like the “Far East” when it is so far from the centres which take decisions – the District Council in Bexhill and the County Council in Lewes – and when neglect seems to be apparent everywhere you look (though every council has faced massive cuts in income). People say Rother does not listen, and maybe we have got used to not being heard. And it seems typical that the only employee who knows anything about the Landgate (whose condition is causing increasing concern) is currently in New Zealand, and no one else apparently knows about this neglected historic monument.

Whether another supermarket will want to come to Rye is questionable, and the land is not on the list identified for new housing in the Neighbourhood Plan. But will it end up being used for our schools? Parents, would-be parents and grandparents should all be hoping it can be used for school expansion. But the schools as well as the parents need to be active in both lobbying the local councils, and councillors, and putting pressure on the Department of Education (if funds are an issue) through the schools and local politicians, including our MP Amber Rudd.

Public pressure seems to be having some effect on the proposed bus cuts, and public pressure should not be dismissed – particularly when a general election is on the horizon.

* The town council knows there is a need for more school places (having recently approved prefab units to bale out the primary), and the schools are next to the supermarket site.

* The county council has a statutory duty to ensure enough school places are provided, and

* Rye Academy is “an academy” for which central Government funding often seems to be available.

* Also Rother District Council recognises in its just published Infrastructure Plan (which no one in the Town Hall seems to have read yet) that there is a critically important need for more places in pre-school and primary which will eventually topple over into secondary needs.

So there are a number of “players”, including councils and indeed school governors and principals, who can exert influence in this situation, or even use the powers they have – and if money is an issue there may be sources other than the local councils.

But this news seemed to leave the council, or the Planning Committee at least on Monday, at a loss about what to do at this point, and this may be the result of “not being heard” for so long that they feel there is nothing they can do. And it may be that the schools can acquire enough extra space by building on such play spaces and playing fields as there are, and then using some distant grounds (possibly at flood risk) for outdoor physical activities in future. That is not really satisfactory, but at built up Inner London schools where I was a governor, there was no choice. However I think there are choices in Rye – if we start the ball rolling.

The vice-chair of the Neighbourhood Plan Steering Group, Anthony Kimber was not at the Town Hall for this week’s meeting, but recognises education is an issue to be addressed in the Plan  – and may be an Action Committee of some sort will emerge, as one is definitely needed.

The image shows the first part of the supermarket’s letter to Town Councillors