Douglas Osborn all work and no play

Birmingham City Council planners have voted against plans for a free school for disengaged pupils to be opened at the busy Swan Shopping Centre in Yardley.

Peter Douglas Osborn, Conservative Councillor for Weoley, was one of only two councillors to support a scheme that would see youngsters housed in disused Tesco offices with no outdoor recreational facility.

The other 11 members of the committee argued that a school with no outdoor play area, next to a major shopping area and one of the city’s busiest roads, with the added question over its fire evacuation procedures, should not go ahead.

Douglas Osborn believes that legally the council is “on a sticky wicket”, but Labour Councillor Martin Straker-Welds, a teacher, said: “An outdoor play area is as important a facility as any provided by a school. We should not be looking for minimum standards, we should be looking for something exceptional for children.”

Councillors also argued there were strong reasons to refuse the plans over traffic and the impact on residents and the Swan Centre of having up to 90 disengaged youngsters crossing the shopping centre to play on the nearest open space every day.

Councillor Barry Henley (Lab, Brandwood) said: “That might work for a once-a-week PE lesson, but I imagine it would be practically impossible for daily play time.”

The East Birmingham Network, a group of 12 city secondary schools, hoped to open the free school in Lily Road in September.

A spokesman for EBN said that they had been working with builders and Ofsted to overcome fire safety concerns and are confident of a solution. He also refused to rule out a legal appeal.

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