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Planning and Development (Essex)

Volume 497: debated on Monday 12 October 2009

The Petition of John Hogarth, parents of Jotmans Hall School, local residents and others,

Declares that the proposed development of a SureStart Centre at Jotmans Hall School in Benfleet should be rejected because building the centre at that school would bring unacceptable problems including; compromising security for young children and the school buildings, including late at night and at weekends; destroying valuable greenbelt land and playing fields; wasting a vast amount of public money; increasing parking problems for school users and residents; and imposing highway safety dangers; further declares that the councils are pushing ahead with this plan because if they switch to other much more appropriate sites, they could lose their £500,000 budget for the project and that this demonstrates a cavalier approach by the councils to the management of public funds.

The Petitioners therefore request that the House of Commons urge the Government to encourage Essex County Council and the Castle Point Borough Council to consider this objection and Petition and to reject the Jotmans Hall site and to co-operate together in investigating more suitable sites and to now do this with public transparency and to undertake fully public consultation on any sites which are thought may be suitable.

And the Petitioners remain, etc.—[Presented by Bob Spink, Official Report, 13 July 2009; Vol. 496, c. 129 .]

[P000392]

Observations from the Secretary of State for Children, Schools and Families, received 3 September 2009:

The Government are committed to providing a Sure Start Children’s Centre for every community by March 2010 and through the Apprenticeship, Skills, Children and Learning Bill the Government are introducing a statutory duty on local authorities to ensure sufficient provision of Sure Start Children’s Centres—making them a universal service. Across the country, Sure Start Children's Centres are already providing access to high quality integrated services for young children under five years old and their families. This is particularly important in the current economic climate, where families face additional worries. All local authorities, working with their Children’s Trust partners, are responsible for planning and delivering Sure Start Children’s Centres.

The Government would expect the local authority, in this case Essex County Council, to think strategically about the location of children’s centre provision in order to ensure universal coverage for all families with children aged zero to five, and to consider what provision would best deliver improved outcomes for children across the county. We would expect the local authority to consult widely on its proposals.

It is for Essex County Council to determine the precise nature of the communications and consultation with its partners. They must consult and inform all interested partners and allow adequate time and provide sufficient information for this process. Our advice to all local authorities is to start consulting early.

I understand that public consultation was carried out at pre-planning stage following Essex County Council’s own guidance and processes. The Council has concluded the public consultation stage on the proposal to develop a Sure Start Children’s Centre at Jotmans Hall School. The Council’s Executive has considered the comments made during the consultation and has made some amendments to the plans for the children's centre at Jotmans Primary School in response to these concerns.

The centre to be located on the Jotmans Primary School site will provide easy access to early childhood services for around 835 local children under five, and their families, who live in the neighbourhood. Sure Start Children’s Centres are a key part of our universal mainstream children's services and as such will contribute greatly to improving outcomes for all children wherever they live. They also have an important role to play in narrowing the gap in outcomes for the poorest children and the rest and we are committed to ensuring there is a centre for every community by 2010.