Anger as school is sold to sect

Yorkshire Post, UK/January 16, 2009

Council chiefs have been accused of not listening to residents over the controversial sale of a Cottingham school to a religious sect.

The decision to sell the former Hallgate Junior School was aired publicly for the first time at a meeting of East Riding Council this week - every other meeting having been held behind closed doors for "commercial" reasons.

Both the Scouts and Guides and the Hallgate Old School Preservation Association (HOSPA) put in nominal bids to acquire the school buildings.

The Scouts and Guides had put in a £1 bid for the smaller building, while the association put in a joint £1 bid to convert the site into a community centre.

The Scout headquarters had been demolished by the council without compensation in 2007 to make way for a new school.

But Tory councillors this week decide to sell the school instead to North Moor Education Trust, a branch of the Exclusive Brethren, an Evangelical Protestant church.

Liberal Democrat councillor Philip Davison, who sat on the scrutiny committee which examined the decision taken by the Cabinet, said even that meeting had been held behind closed doors.

The reason given was that there was commercially sensitive information, but Coun Davison told a full council meeting in Beverley they were given no financial information of any kind - and decisions had been made based on "a sketchy report that steered to only one conclusion".

Coun Davison said community was an anathema to the trust, which avoids contact with outsiders, and said the council's actions had been "insulting" to villagers as they did not follow its own stated objectives.

It was not just what had happened at Cottingham - there was also the furore over selling Norwood House in Beverley and the row over the siting of a replacement for the Floral Hall at Hornsea, while in Welton the old school had been declared surplus to requirements, having "fallen apart", the councillor said.

He concluded: "If council really wants to retain the East Riding character it's about time it listens to local people who make the character of the East Riding; the people who live in its towns and villages."

However, Coun Davison's bid to change the wording of the minute of the Cabinet's decision - adding the words that it had been received "with regret" -failed to impress Tory councillors, and he was overwhelmingly outvoted.

Tory councillor Jonathan Owen, the council's deputy leader, said the correct procedures had been followed.

The decision had come down to whether they wanted to rent the buildings for community projects, or get market value for a building that would still be used as a school.

Last week the education trust said it had nothing to hide and would be opening the school to the public in the autumn term. The Brethren maintains a tight control on how its members live their lives.

They are believed to be forbidden from watching TV and reading newspapers and fiction.

They are also prohibited from owning pets, voting and going to university. Their meeting halls are said to exclude the world by having no windows.

Trevor Brigham, of the Cottingham Guides and Scouts Building Committee, has previously said he believed the two youth groups had been treated "appallingly" in the matter.

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