County passes funding of new £25m Wisbech school back to the Government

Steve Count

Cllr Steve Count on the proposal to ditch current plans for a new Wisbech school said: “I can assure you that if this affected Cambridge City in any way it would have been handled differently." - Credit: Harry Rutter

Opposition leader Steve Count accused Cambridgeshire County Council of running a ‘Cambridge-centric coalition’ as a new £25m secondary school for Wisbech was shelved.  

Cllr Count said it had been ditched “without discussion in committee or even with local members.” 

However, the council says a new free secondary school will still be built but by the Department for Education (DfE).  

The council says the school will go ahead once the DfE has agreed on a site: originally it was to be built off Barton Road. 

Cllr Count however says the decision to hand it over to the DfE “has irrevocably missed the current timetable”. 

He questioned where the extra students of the area will be taught.  

“In mobile classrooms, out in the playing fields with Covid as an excuse?,” he said. 

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But the council says that “education officers have stressed that there is no immediate need for a new secondary school in Wisbech”. 

And there were “currently places available at Thomas Clarkson Academy”. 

Cllr Count said: “I can assure you that if this affected Cambridge City in any way it would have been handled differently. 

“For years we have seen the behaviour of the Liberal Democrats and Labour focus on the extreme south of the county, with only token gestures towards us in the Fens.”  

The council said agreement could not be reached with the DfE on the costs associated with building on a greenfield site and particularly highway, cycleway and footpath improvements that are required. 

A council spokesperson said that the DfE indicated they were unable to meet these additional costs. 

Responsibility for building and delivering the new free school has therefore reverted back to the DfE.  

“The majority of free school projects across the country are delivered in this way,” said the spokesperson.  

The council says it is still going ahead with a new Social, Emotional and Mental Health (SEMH) school in Wisbech. 

“It is unaffected by any decisions made by the DfE about the new free school.” 

Council leader Lucy Nethsingha said it was usual for free schools to be financed by the government.  

She felt the county could not justify the cost of the school from its own capital programme.  

A priority was “a £22million budget deficit left us by the Conservative budget last year” she said.