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Motion over merger of Great Yarmouth schools pits Labour councillor against his own party

PUBLISHED: 17:08 16 October 2017 | UPDATED: 17:09 16 October 2017

Pupils, parents and staff gather to protest through the streets of Yarmouth a giant plans to merge Alderman Swindell School. 
Pic: Sonya Duncan.

Pupils, parents and staff gather to protest through the streets of Yarmouth a giant plans to merge Alderman Swindell School. Pic: Sonya Duncan.

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A Labour councillor refused to back his own party’s motion over controversial proposals to close a Great Yarmouth school.

Norfolk County Council’s proposal to merge Alderman Swindell Primary School in Yarmouth with North Denes Primary School in a new £7m primary school at the North Denes site has been criticised by parents.

And, at a full meeting of the county council today, Labour’s Mike Smith-Clare, who represents Yarmouth Nelson and Southtown, put forward a motion that, given concerns, children’s services committee should discuss the issue, before a final decision.

But fellow Yarmouth Labour councillor Mick Castle, whose Yarmouth North and Central division covers both schools, said that would just create further uncertainty - with the final decision out of councillor’s hands anyway.

Mr Castle said the process for the merger had started months ago - with the council’s capital property group agreeing to take the proposal forward back in February.

But he said election purdah prevented consultation at that point, which he warned at the time could create a “dangerous vacuum”.

He said he was proved right, with public meetings, campaigns and marches having since been organised and formal consultation only starting in September.

Mr Castle apologised to parents and Alison Hopley, head of Alderman Swindell, after a complaint was lodged about him during a public meeting in the summer.

However, at yesterday’s meeting, he said he still supported the merger. He said: “As local member, I am absolutely in support of the county’s proposals. We have been waiting a long time for this sort of investment. It would give 21st century school facilities.

“We need to get on with that without delay.”

The council heard that the final decision on whether the merger will go ahead will rest with the director of children’s services, not councillors.

The Conservative group and Mr Castle voted not to accept Labour’s motion. But Labour’s Emma Corlett said she thought those who voted against the motion had misunderstood its purpose.

She said it had called for children’s services committee to look at whether the consultation had been done properly, given the concerns parents had aired.

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