A multi-million pound investment in three new schools has been given the go-ahead on one of Chester’s most deprived estates, but not without a political row.
Pro-free speech slogan ‘Je suis Charlie’ - borrowed from France in the aftermath of last week’s terrorist atrocities - was uttered at Cheshire West and Chester Council’s planning committee as Labour and Tories quarrelled over who should take credit for the Blacon schemes.
All three school buildings unanimously given the green light - Blacon High School and JH Godwin Primary in Melbourne Road and Dee Point Primary in Blacon Point Road - are replacements for dilapidated existing facilities on the same sites.
Welcoming the schemes, visiting Blacon councillor Reggie Jones became political when he told the committee the schools were in the last Labour government’s Building Schools for the Future programme but this was ‘scrapped’ by the coalition government.
The plans for Blacon were only resurrected in the government’s Priority Schools Building Programme launched in 2011, he argued, leading to “wasted time and millions of pounds”.
Tory committee member Cllr Adrian Walmsley raised a point of order when he interrupted to say: “Chairman, this is not on, he’s making a political speech here.”
The meeting was adjourned for a few minutes while legal advice was sought but development planning manager Fiona Hore came back to explain that Cllr Jones was free to make ‘comments he sees fit’ as ward member.
Cllr Jones continued: “I’m saddened by the attempt to gag me with regards to my comments. They may or may not be relevant to each individual member but it’s up to them to decide. So much for ‘Je suis Charlie’ in this authority.”
Cllr Jones expressed sympathy for the Civic Trust’s views about ‘poor design quality’. He appealed for good traffic management pre and post-construction at Dee Point which is doubling in size.
Tory committee member Cllr Jill Houlbrook hit back: “It’s really good to see this government investing in three new schools in Blacon which is an area people have always said is forgotten. It clearly isn’t forgotten.
“Thank you Cllr Jones for highlighting those issues. I’m sorry to hear you say about the standard of the buildings and other issues that you mention because I would think there are other wards in Cheshire West and Chester that would welcome three new schools in their area.”
Cllr Walmsley said during the JH Godwin debate: “Three schools in one locality of Chester is really good news.”