We desperately need more school places in and around Maidstone. Some primary school children are already having to travel miles, and the situation is only going to get worse in the next few years.
In April 2017, the Department for Education announced plans to open the Maidstone Primary School and Bearsted Academy on the Kent Medical Campus. The plans for these much needed schools were welcomed by the local community, in an area facing a serious shortfall in primary school places.
Earlier this year concerns emerged about the proposed location of the schools next to a mental health unit, leading to uncertainty about whether they could still be built and delaying the planning process.
With so many rumours flying round I decided to bring the agencies involved to try to find a way forwards. The meeting included representatives from Kent County Council, Maidstone Borough Council, the Department for Education (DfE), which includes those from the Education and Skills Funding Agency (ESFA) and the Leigh Academies Trust. Dr Tony Romero and Nicky McLeod, Chief Executive and Chief Operating Officer of Cygnet Health Care, also attended the meeting.
Cygnet advised that only patients needing ‘low secure’ or non-secure accommodation will be treated at the unit, excluding those who might be a risk to the community.
During the meeting, Kent County Council, the DfE and the Trust said that they had been reassured by Cygnet’s advice and its assurances that the schools and the mental health unit could operate near to each other.
Maidstone Borough Council said that their outstanding concerns involve traffic and whether the ESFA has fully explored alternative site options, given that the proposed site (Pope’s Field) is currently designated as open landscape.
Planning permission will need to be sought for the schools from Maidstone Borough Council. Given the time this is likely to take, followed by construction, there is still a question mark over whether the schools can be open in time for September 2020.
Dr Tony Romero, Chief Executive of Cygnet Health Care, said: “We would like to thank everyone who attended what we feel was a very constructive and positive meeting. We have always been very supportive of plans for the schools to be built and we believe there is now agreement on a way forward so the local community can take advantage of the educational services the schools will provide and also the health provision that we will offer. We would like to thank Helen Whately for taking the initiative to organise the meeting and look forward to working with her, Maidstone Borough Council, the schools and local groups for the benefit of the whole community.”
Simon Beamish, Chief Executive of the Leigh Academies Trust said: "After some unfortunate delays, all parties in this exciting new project for families in Bearsted and Maidstone are now confident to press ahead. It has been right to ask those important questions, but now is the time to make these new schools happen that will bring much needed additional, high quality school places for families. The Leigh Academies Trust is delighted to be leading these exciting projects with the full support of all concerned."
Roger Gough, Kent County Council’s Cabinet Member for Children, Young People and Education, said: “There has been growing pressure on primary school places in the Maidstone area for some time; we recognise the difficulties and concern this has caused local families and have been working to deliver solutions. Kent County Council, working with our partner agencies, sought assurances on a number of concerns about the site and we are pleased to have received them. We look forward to progressing to the next stage of the planning process and to seeing the school open in the near future.”
William Cornall, Director of Regeneration and Place at Maidstone Borough Council, said: “We understand the importance of the proposed schools and the urgent need for school places within this catchment area. We are continuing to work to support all agencies as appropriate and await the final planning submission for consideration and determination in due course.”