Seven years ago Newham Council announced that it intended to regenerate the predominantly council housing stock in my electoral ward in Canning Town. Nothing wrong with that: many of the homes were in urgent need of rebuilding or renovation.
But it became a classic New Labour project, typical of their many projects up and down the country that are more concerned with ends than means, of achieving targets rather than helping people. Despite buckets of warm empty words about “consultation” and “involving residents in decision- making”, the scheme was ruthlessly driven top-down from the executive mayor’s office.
The working-class people of Canning Town became irrelevant in the town hall’s blind obsession with yuppifying the neighbourhood. Locals were moved about like pawns on a chess board. The regeneration was done to and at the local people, nor for and with them – a superb opportunity for community regeneration replaced by an ugly example of community destruction.
This scenario was well illustrated at a meeting I had this week with the parents of children at Oasis Nursery School on Burke Street.
Oasis is an excellent nursery school, one of four in our neighbourhood but the only stand-alone one. It has received outstanding Ofsted assessments and is a popular and happy place with a superb head and committed staff. It is streets ahead of the other nursery schools. It’s a diamond and a unique asset in deprived under-serviced Canning Town.
All the local schools, like Oasis, are suffering from a fall in pupil numbers as families are moved out of the area as a result of the housing project. In addition, planners tell us that the Oasis building itself is to be bulldozed to make way for a new road and development of the surrounding land.
So DOH! Our imaginative town hall came up with an intelligent creative plan. They’re going to close the best nursery school in the borough and spread the pupils and staff around into much lower-performing schools nearby. That’s it. End of. The committee met, the slide-rules and calculators came out and the decision to terminate one of Newham’s few outstanding schools was taken, top down. Educational excellence is replaced by mediocrity. The parents I met are distraught.
Is it beyond the wit of man and Newham town hall to be a little more resourceful and inventive – even if this entails more financial risk? The developers are set to make £millions from the housing regeneration project. How about they are compelled build a new and larger nursery school for the community? (It’s called Section 106.) Oasis staff and pupils could then move in and the children from other underperforming local nurseries should be offered places too – which may of course lead to their closure. But at least educational mediocrity would be replaced by excellence. And I’m confident from my meeting that it would be supported by parents and local community.
Oasis is destined to be shut in August. Is it too late for Newham Council to see sense?