Tuesday, December 02, 2008
Setting the record straight
Over the past week, there's been far more heat than light around the subject of the QE 6th Form's College's proposed extension into the back of the Arts Centre.
The matter boiled over at Council, when opposition members got the wrong end of the stick of some comments made by Council Leader John Williams.
Happily, this evening's Cabinet meeting, where the matter could be discussed in an informed way, was a much more satisfactory affair. You can read the paper which went to Cabinet here.
We start from the principle that Darlington has one of the most successful 6th Form Colleges in the country, but one which is severely constrained by the historic site it occupies. The College would like to expand, providing a first class education for more of the Borough's young people. At the same time, the rear of the Arts Centre is run down, and the building needs money spending on it.
Although some tentative discussions have taken place, initiated by the 6th Form College thgemselves, it required this evening's formal decision to kickstart meaningful consultation. Very unfortunately, the local ward councillors weren't privy to the early discussions, and both the Leader and portfolio holder Andy Scott apologised to Ian Galletley and Tony Richmond for the oversight.
Of course, as the press coverage has made clear, a future extension to the 6th Form College could affect the youth theatre, the garden bar, and the media workshop group amongst others.
Nothing has been decided, and any scoping will have to consider how facilities might be reprovided and improved if the extension proceeds. No-one should lose sight of the prize, however, of an expansion of our excellent 6th Form College.
The debate tonight was much more measured - both Ian Galletley and Heather Scott made thoughtful contributions and asked questions - the College ward councillors have linked in with the management of the 6th Form College, opening an important line of communication as far as they and their residents are concerned.
The dog that didn't bark, yet again, was the Liberal Democrat group contribution. Martin Swainston was happy to sound off in the paper alleging that the Council was using the sale to "balance the books" (rubbish, by the way) but typically, when the matter is actually debated, Swainston didn't even bother to turn up. He was subbed (yet again) by my blogging colleague Mike Barker, who sat on his hands and stayed mute.
No doubt in the future, if there's easy slurs to be made, or cheap headlines to be grabbed, the LibDems will be at the front. Don't expect anything sensible or constructive from them, however, on this key issue for the Borough.