THE Deanes School saga has been branded one of the worst embarrassments in Essex County Council’s long history.
The Tories who control County Hall were heavily criticised yesterday, as furious opposition demanded to be told why the council was dropping £23million plans to rebuild Deanes and move Glenwood Special Schools on to the Deanes site.
Instead senior Tories have decided to spend just £2.5million refurbishing the ageing Deanes buildings this summer.
They have also earmarked £14million to build a new Glenwood School a new, as yet unidentified, site.
Councillors also criticised the regime for the damage and disruption caused by the ten-month wrangle over the school’s future.
They went on to condemn plans to spend £4million expanding King John School, Thundersley and Appleton School, Benfleet – plans originally mooted to take children who would otherwise have gone to Deanes.
Labour group leader Julie Young asked: “At a time of great financial pressure, what justification is there to continue giving £4million to these two schools, when the basic need for extra school places disappeared when it became clear Deanes School was to remain open?
“Why have we not gone back to Plan A and continued with the colocation plans? They would make the best use of that site and would give both schools a home.”
Alan Bayley, Ukip county councillor for South Benfleet, added: “We all know the adjudicator’s decision was a huge embarrassment to council cabinet members, as every one of you voted to close the school.”
Referring to jailing of disgraced Tory peer Lord Hanningfield for fiddling his expenses, he added: “This is the worst embarrassment since the last Tory leader was caught with his fingers in the till.”
The future of Deanes was finally secured in February, when the Government’s Office of School’s Adjudicator intervened, ruling County Hall had not proved the need to close it.
Ray Gooding, Tory councillor responsible for education, replied to Mrs Young’s points, by claiming it was no longer an option for Deans and Glenwood schools to share a site.
He added: “The money should make a significant difference to the condition of Deanes School.
“I realise for the school and the community, it has been a difficult time and I would like to commend the passion of those involved.
“I can’t stress how much we are committed to the Glenwood School provision, but the task for Deanes School is to maintain pupil numbers.
“The co-location process would require the almost complete demolition of the site and it to be a building site for a couple of years.
“We don’t know how practical that would be given the school’s situation.”