Sunday, 6 October 2013

£2,000-a-month for Arden security over footpath row

TAXPAYERS are footing a £2,000-a-month bill for a security guard so the public can use a footpath through Arden school’s grounds and pupils can be kept "safe", its headmaster has said.


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Martin Murphy says Arden and council bosses are paying for the staff so it can meet legal requirement to open the footpath while keeping children “safe”.

A security guard will “escort” those who wish to use the footpath, he said.

Arden closed the footpath in 2008 by putting up gates at Milverton Road, blocking access along the footpath, along the edge of the site to Station Road.

It says the alternative is a diverted footpath – but this will cost £100,000.

In 2011, residents applied to Solihull Metropolitan Borough Council (SMBC) to have the footpath officially recognised.

The council threw out the application but this was overturned on appeal at the independent Planning Inspectorate.

In a letter to parents, Mr Murphy said: “We believe it is totally inappropriate to have a public footpath across the site due to our safeguarding duty of care.”

He said the governing body had carried out “detailed risk assessments” to find a way to re-open the footpath and keep pupils and staff safe.

Meetings with staff and the council had not found a solution and the school hired temporary fencing during the summer holidays for £300 a week to “secure the main school buildings”.

This could not remain as pupils and staff needed to access buildings and un-named alternative was not accepted by the council “following further pressure and threats of potential legal action from local residents” he said.

He said: “Following further discussions with SMBC we have now agreed to put into operation a managed solution with a security person opening the gates and escorting those who wish to use the footpath between 8.45am and 6pm.”

Mr Murphy wrote: “This, as you will understand, is at a considerable cost to the school and SMBC who are supporting us in manning this short term solution (some £2,000 per month).

“This is sadly using up much needed educational resources.”

Yet he said he is seeking governing body approval to “reroute the footpath to a suitable location in the vicinity of the school boundary”. He said: “The estimated cost for a diverted footpath is approximately £100,000.”

Residents had previously raised concerns about a diversion, he said.

The council threw out the bid to have the footpath officially recognised in March 2011 as it said the route had not been used uninterrupted for 20 years, a key test.

It said available evidence could also not show that the school intended to allow it to be used a right of way when it was open, another key test.

The inspectorate said 39 evidence forms from the public with 41 letters said the footpath was used by the public

Inspector Barney Grimshaw said these show “enough use by the public throughout both the period from 1980-2000 and from 1988-2008 to raise the presumption that the route had been dedicated as a public footpath”.

He added: “The current head of the school has stated that she has never seen anyone use the route during the seven years that she has been head.

“She also stated that the caretaker and other staff had reported to her that people have been seen walking through the school site but that on each occasion they have been challenged and have left the site.”

The chair of governors said in a letter in 2008 that “I quite accept that passage through the grounds has taken place for many years” and acting head Patti West said in a 2007 email that
“there is a public footpath from Milverton Road through the school site” he said.

He found: “There is no incontrovertible evidence that the claimed footpath cannot reasonably be alleged to subsist and I therefore find that the existence of a public footpath on the claimed route has been reasonably alleged.”

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