In our last update we mentioned that there had been no official word as to whether the school was running late, and if it was running late why this was. Today after sending a number of emails to the council over recent weeks, asking questions at meetings and raising a freedom of information request we have finally received an official response from the council confirming the rumours in an e-mail from Mary Severin the borough solicitor:
The delay has been caused by the discovery that the level of contamination on the school site was more extensive than that declared by the MOD. It has, therefore, taken longer than anticipated for Crest Nicholsen to complete the de-contamination works ready for handover to us. We now expect to gain control of the site on Monday 7th September. Fortunately there was some contingency time built into the build plan and we can also apply to another part of WBC to increase the hours of work. The weather over the winter will also either allow us to progress at a good speed or slow us down, we shall have to wait and see re this. The project plan includes an action at the end of January 2016 for a decision to be made on the contingency site. This site was heartily approved of by all the potential Education Providers, including Bohunt the successful provider, also by the members of Parent Reference Group.
She subsequently sent a second e-mail later in the day correcting the date to today as the site had been handed over ahead of the date expected when the statement was written.
With regards to the school the statement highlights that we need to hope for good weather over the winter to allow the project to catch up, and also confirms that a decision on the contingency site will be made in January so parents should know before they have to accept a place whether the school will open in the new building or the contingency.
What is more of a concern is the reason for the delay – site contamination that was more extensive than that declared by the MoD in the planning documents. This is a concern we had raised previously based on experience from other residents groups based around other former MoD sites where unexpected contamination had often cropped up as the sites were developed. Whenever we did we were assured by the council and developers that plans were sound, the contamination survey was reliable and that we shouldn’t be concerned.
We have obviously put in further freedom of information requests as to what the additional contamination that has been discovered consisted of, especially given that the school will open before all the rest of the Garrison will have been cleared, and more pressingly because all the contaminated material is currently being moved off site close to houses and the pre-school on the Garrison, and through the middle of Arborfield Village. The planning committee and officials approved the development on the basis of a flawed assessment of the contamination level on the site, given that they are not saying what has now been discovered on just a small part of the Garrison it is important that those plans and surveys are reassessed to assure residents and parents who will be sending their children to the school next year that the environment around the school and the environment for residents is safe.