High court challenge over school building scheme

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The Independent Online

A High Court challenge against the Government's controversial decision to axe Labour's multibillion-pound secondary school rebuilding scheme will start this week.

Six councils in England are urging the High Court to find that the decision to scrap the Building Schools for the Future (BSF) programme was taken incorrectly.

Education Secretary Michael Gove abolished the scheme in July, cancelling projects at more than 700 schools.

The decision provoked uproar from local councils, unions and Labour politicians, who warned it was a tragedy and would have a catastrophic effect on pupils.

In October, several councils announced they would be taking action against the move.

The authorities involved in this week's challenge, which begins on Tuesday, are Waltham Forest Council, Luton Borough Council, Nottingham City Council, Sandwell Council, Kent County Council and Newham Council.

Waltham Forest Council Leader, Cllr Chris Robbins, said: "We have significant levels of deprivation in our borough and Building Schools for the Future (BSF) was a once in a lifetime opportunity to raise the aspirations of our entire population.

"That chance has been snatched away from future generations and will have a devastating impact for years to come.

"We stand to lose £275 million of investment. Because the Government wouldn't sit down amicably and explain their decision to us, this judicial review is the only avenue left open so with some regret that is the path we have followed."

Under Labour's £55 billion BSF scheme every secondary school in England was due to be rebuilt or refurbished.

But it was among the first education schemes to be cut by the coalition government, with Mr Gove saying the programme had been beset by "massive overspends, tragic delays, botched construction projects and needless bureaucracy".

Days after announcing the move, Mr Gove came under fire over his handling of the situation after it emerged that initial lists of affected works were strewn with errors.

The mistakes meant several schools which believed they would be able to go ahead with their building projects had their hopes dashed.

The hearing is due to last a week.

A spokesman for the Department for Education said: "We are robustly defending the claims made by the local authorities and believe we have a strong case.

"The coalition Government has been clear that the end of BSF is not the end of school rebuilding. That's why we have launched a comprehensive review of all capital spending so that school building can be done more efficiently and quickly."

He added that none of the councils are challenging the wider decision to end BSF.