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School affected by Raac scandal in Barnet had rebuilding works cancelled by coalition government

A Finchley school affected by the nationwide concrete safety scandal had a rebuilding project cancelled by the government in 2010.

Bishop Douglass School, which was last week revealed to have reinforced autoclaved aerated concrete (Raac) on site, was set for refurbishment under the Building Schools for the Future (BSF) programme – a £55billion investment scheme set up by the Labour government in the 2000s.

A Barnet Council report from 2009 agreeing priority schools for the BSF funding submission, which was signed off by then-council leader and now Finchley and Golders Green Conservative MP Mike Freer, called for an £18million investment in the school.

Raac, a lightweight form of concrete with a lifespan of around 30 years, was used in the construction of schools and other public buildings for several decades up until the mid-1990s.

Although it did not mention Raac, the council’s BSF report from 2009 said Bishop Douglass School, which first opened in 1963, had “significant condition and suitability issues” and proposed remodelling and replacing “poor condition blocks” on the existing site.

But parliamentary documents reveal the renovation work was scrapped after the Conservative and Liberal Democrat-led coalition government came to power in 2010 and launched its ‘austerity’ programme of public spending cuts.

A nationwide safety alert was sparked at the end of last month when the government ordered more than 100 schools to close areas containing Raac until safety measures had been put in place.

Bishop Douglass School’s website states that a small area of its site has been found to contain Raac, including three classrooms “which have been taken out of use, as has a study area and common room”. It adds that remedial works will be finished within a couple of months, and the whole of the affected area will be brought back into use.

Commenting on the decision to scrap the BSF scheme, Labour council leader Barry Rawlings said: “The Conservatives put their thirst to cut public services ahead of the safety of our children. If Labour’s plans to revamp Bishop Douglass School had gone ahead, children and parents could have avoided worry and disruption.

“Now, as so often with this Conservative government, Barnet taxpayers risk having to pay more from delayed action for all these years.”

The Labour Party claims to have raised questions on school building safety more than 180 times in parliament since July last year and pointed out that Freer voted against publishing surveys of school building safety in May.

Sarah Sackman, Labour’s prospective parliamentary candidate for Finchley and Golders Green, said: “Local people deserve answers from Mike Freer and the Conservative government on why they ignored the Labour Party’s warnings about the safety of public buildings and allowed this to happen.

“They knew that Bishop Douglass School needed repairs but they recklessly cut the funding for those repairs.”

In response, Freer has accused Labour of “missing the point” and said the BSF programme “had to be scaled back due to the economic conditions of the country in 2010 and the dire state of our public finances after 13 years of Labour government”.

He added: “The buildings at Bishop Douglass School are not unsafe. The school has been aware of Raac for some years; the buildings are considered stable, and are being monitored in strict compliance with guidance from professional bodies such as the Institute of Structural Engineers.

“Only the economically illiterate would want to demolish and rebuild an entire site, at great disruption to the education of students, to address a problem under control which impacts just three classrooms not even in the main school building.

“I have spoken to the headteacher of Bishop Douglass, and they have confirmed that the matter is in hand, under constant review, with no risk to pupils. Calm heads and specialist support are what the school needs moving forward, not Labour opportunists jumping on the bandwagon.”

A DfE spokesperson said: “We are continuing to ramp up the surveys of suspected Raac, and where it is identified we are allocating schools with a caseworker to help put in mitigations or temporary accommodation as quickly as possible.

“We are incredibly grateful to school and college leaders for their work with us at pace to make sure that where children are affected, disruption is kept to a minimum, and in the even rarer cases where remote learning is required, it is on average for a matter of days not weeks.”

Bishop Douglass School was approached for comment.

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