LETTER: Disgraceful suggestion from MP

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Henry Smith, our local MP, alleged in last week’s paper that permanent planning permission for The Gatwick School had been rejected on ideological grounds.

That was a disgraceful suggestion to make, as a former borough councillor Mr Smith is better placed than most to know the processes in place to ensure that applications are assessed purely on planning grounds and if he has any evidence to the contrary then he should put it forward.

The application had serious planning problems attached to it and all the relevant documentation is publicly accessible on the council’s website. Both Sussex Police and West Sussex County Council (hardly a bastion of socialism) had objected to the application on various grounds, including pedestrian (i.e. pupil) safety. I doubt there are many who, were the situation reversed, would be willing to support an application which both highways experts and the police said puts children at risk.

None of this should have been a surprise, when I met with the school’s representatives as the local county councillor two years ago I stressed that the site was probably the worst possible location in the whole of Crawley to try to set up a school. Unfortunately the Government’s decision not to involve councils at the free school planning stage means that we are increasingly finding that schools get built in the wrong locations and local councils are left to clear up the mess.

Furthermore, as Mr Smith is no doubt aware, the vote to refuse the application achieved cross-party support, with members of both Labour and the Conservative groups voting to support the recommendation of planning officers that the proposal be refused.

Rather than throwing political mud, Mr Smith’s time would be better spent working with us to find a way to ensure the school can remain open, while addressing all the very real problems involved in opening a school on an industrial estate. At the very least I believe my members are owed an apology.

Cllr Peter Lamb, leader, Crawley Borough Council

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