Councillor dismisses King’s Lynn school expansion opposition as ‘irrational’

MP Henry Bellingham listened to the safety concerns of residents at a meeting on Saturday morning. ANL-141129-122843009

MP Henry Bellingham listened to the safety concerns of residents at a meeting on Saturday morning. ANL-141129-122843009

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Opposition to £3 million plans to double the size of a Gaywood primary school has been branded “irrational” and “misplaced” by a West Norfolk county councillor.

MP Henry Bellingham, borough councillors and local residents have all spoken out against the proposal to expand the St Martha’s Catholic Primary School in Field Lane in recent weeks.

But, ahead of a Norfolk County Council planning meeting on the issue in Norwich today, Toby Coke, leader of the authority’s UKIP group, has called for the scheme to be approved.

He argued that the opposition of Mr Bellingham and West Norfolk Council’s planning committee, who voted to object to the proposal last month, “appears completely irrational.”

He said there had been a substantial rise in the Catholic population and their needs should be addressed.

He added: “With good Ofsted ratings, local children should not be denied education at a good school.

“It must be remembered that this is the only primary-phase Roman Catholic school in North West Norfolk.

“It is imperative that the Borough Council do not deny local people the denominational education of their choice.”

Mr Coke also said residents’ concerns about increased traffic levels around the site were “misplaced” because of mitigation measures contained in the planning application, such as additional on-site parking for staff, a dedicated drop-off area and a proposal to change the timings of the school day, so they do not clash with other nearby schools.

But Mr Bellingham hit back and suggested Mr Coke, who is challenging him for the North West Norfolk Parliamentary seat at May’s general election, should talk to local people about the issues.

He said opponents of the plan were not arguing that money for the extra places, which is being provided by the government, was not needed in Lynn.

He added: “They won’t find a single person against the expansion of school places but they won’t find a single person who is in favour of this application.”

Mr Bellingham also repeated his call for a full consultation on the expansion plan and claimed Mr Coke’s comments would only reinforce public perceptions that the county council ignored the views of local people in West Norfolk.

He said: “I’ve always believed in local consultation and local democracy and people lose faith in local democracy if they feel they’re not being listened to.”

Under the current proposals, the school is set to expand by up to 30 pupils per year, with the roll doubling from 210 children in 2013 to 420 by 2021.