Redbridge Council agrees to relocation of pupil referral unit as questions raised over validity of objections

Redbridge Council has agreed to move a school for teenagers unable to attend mainstream schools, including expelled pupils, despite local opposition.

Seven hundred people signed petitions opposing the move of a pupil referral unit (PRU) to Ilford, with residents worrying the new students would bring “crime and anti-social behaviour” to the area, despite the council claiming there had been no reported incidents relating to the PRU.

The Constance Bridgeman Centre, run by Redbridge Council, was located at the New City College campus in Chadwell Heath until its lease expired on July 2. The council considered 15 new sites for the school before selecting the Loxford Youth Centre in Ilford, a building currently home to youth services and Loxford First Step Preschool.

At a meeting last night, a resident asked council leaders how there could be “any justification” for a move local people had “pretty much unanimously rejected”.

A consultation which ended in June received 255 responses objecting to the plans, compared to only nine in favour. However, a report noted that 160 responses came from the same device.

Cabinet member for children and young people, Elaine Norman, told the meeting the consultation “needed to be understood in context” and that those opposed represent “less than 1%” of the local population.

She said: “Consultations of this nature tended to be weighed in favour of those who oppose, as those who accept a proposal’s merits are less motivated to respond.

“It’s hard to scrutinise the depth of public opinion when the majority of responses came from a single IP address or else were the same text copied and pasted.

“The majority of concerns were about […] increased crime and anti-social behaviour, but there have been no recorded incidents relating to Constance pupils in school or around the area.”

She added that the 42 current students, aged 14-16, are “some of Redbridge’s most vulnerable young people” and that the relocation will “underpin the future financial viability of the centre”.

She said the council has already found a new home for Loxford First Step Preschool and that any other groups who have to move would also be offered an alternative “at no increased cost”.

An initial suggestion to relocate the pre-school to the Loxford Park pavilion was dropped after The Loxford and Clementswood Residents’ Association claimed it would destroy their green space.

Council leader Jas Athwal added that the pre-school was receiving “a bigger and better offer”  and that the move was a “win-win all round and the right decision”.

In one of the objections received, a resident raised concerns about the PRU being moved across the road from Loxford School, although the officers’ report notes another school for excluded pupils “has been adjacent to Kantor King Solomon High School for a number of years” without issue.

The report argues that the centre’s school day finishing 25 minutes before Loxford School will mean “students will already be travelling home before Loxford pupils start to leave” but adds that staff will “actively monitor the area around the school” at the start and end of the day.

Other buildings still being considered as a home for the PRU in March were the Peregrine’s Children’s Home in Ilford and Wanstead Youth Centre. Ultimately, however, it was decided the Loxford Youth Centre would need the fewest changes made to the building, making it the most cost-effective solution, and was in a suitable location.

The relocation is expected to cost £1.3million and will be completed in time for the centre to reopen next term on September 1.

Victoria Munro

Local Democracy Reporter