THE government has dealt Portsmouth taxpayers a fresh blow after the city council lost a bid to secure £2m to rebuild a school.
And now a section of playing fields may need to be sold off to make up the shortfall.
Although we know how many children are in the city, we don’t know which schools they will be going to.Portsmouth North MP Penny Mordaunt
The News revealed this year that the Department for Education wanted to spend £9m rebuilding King Richard School in Paulsgrove.
But the money would only pay for a school with a maximum of 900 places – its current capacity – and the council was seeking to find another £2m to expand it so 1,000 children could be taken on, amid concerns over the demand for secondary school places in the city.
Pressure was put on the minister for Portsmouth, Mark Francois, to lobby ministers for the cash – but it has emerged his efforts were to no avail as the council must now pay up if it wants a bigger school.
And it means plans are now pushing forward to sell off part of a two-hectare site at the back of the school to make up the money – which The News understands could be snapped up by housing developers.
Portsmouth North MP Penny Mordaunt still believes the government will pay up and provide extra classrooms down the line once the authority proves there is a demand for additional places.
But Portsmouth’s Tory planning boss, Luke Stubbs, said: ‘In Portsmouth, there will be 50-per-cent more children in reception by 2019 then there were in 1999.
‘It’s more practical to provide extra school places as part of a larger school than to add piecemeal on the site of existing classrooms.
‘If we were to go ahead with a school for 900 and then expand it, other parts like the kitchen, gym and hall facilities would be too small. And the government has never offered a solution to that.’
The row comes after the government declined to refund the council the more than £1m it spent clearing up the Camber in Old Portsmouth to make way for Ben Ainslie Racing’s new America’s Cup headquarters.
Tory council leader Donna Jones said it was a ‘poor decision’ by the government and lacked ‘business sense’.
And she admitted Mr Francois couldn’t do much as the deal was already set in stone by the time he was appointed after May’s general election.
But Ms Mordaunt defended the government’s decision. She said: ‘The council’s approach on this is wrong.
‘The government has already allocated £32m for educational places. That’s a big pot of money the council could use for this kind of work.
‘The government funds ahead of need, but it needs to be sure that the money it sends will be used. Although we know how many children are in the city, we don’t know which schools they will be going to.’
King Richard headteacher Gareth Hughes did not want to comment on the situation other than to say: ‘We are working very hard to develop plans for the exciting new school building that the children of Paulsgrove and Wymering need and deserve.’
Mr Francois was yesterday unavailable for comment.