Issue has unified' town

PUBLISHED: 10:00 06 November 2009 | UPDATED: 12:15 10 June 2010

Rolle College

Rolle College

IT was by no means the usual suspects who packed the coach bound for County Hall last Friday morning. Fifty people including plumbers, students, councillors, reflexologists, artists, retirees, politicians and teachers were among those determined to make t

IT was by no means the usual suspects who packed the coach bound for County Hall last Friday morning.

Fifty people including plumbers, students, councillors, reflexologists, artists, retirees, politicians and teachers were among those determined to make their point at a crucial debate over the Douglas Avenue site.

Such was the strength of feeling that the reconvened scrutiny committee, charged with reviewing the council's decision to renege on a pledge to buy Rolle College, had generated people who previously had little in common but suddenly found a unity of purpose.

For some on the coach, organised by Jenny Budden, the feeling was that County Hall was letting Plymouth University sell an asset given to the town, to fatten up the university's bank balance.

Others are convinced that the policy will condemn a future generation of students in Devon's largest town to travel miles to Honiton, Exeter or Ottery for their education - at a cost to be shouldered by parents, except the very poorest.

Some just wanted to rail at the council for a policy that has had little public consultation and could reward the Avenues with a new housing development.

"No other issue, as far as I can remember, has unified the town quite like this," said town clerk John Wokersien.

"The debate about Asda was two sides disagreeing. This issue has brought people together."

Michelle Ferris, 30, graduate of Rolle College, is a Steiner teacher and she said: "Rolle is essential for Exmouth.

"The college was left to the town and it seems the ideal solution for the overspill from the community college. I feel very strongly about it, and we need to make a point today and get them to listen."

But, despite a feeling that the leadership of the council had pretty much made up its mind not to honour a pledge by the previous administration, it did little to dampen the campaigners' mood.

Jean Brock, 60, reflexologist and artist, said: "It's outrageous that they think they can get away with it. What are they going to do with all those students? It's a short-sighted decision and to let the site just get developed with no community benefit is wrong."

Anthony Walsh, plumber, 43, said: "My daughters go to the community college and this is going to affect them.

"When they get into sixth form, is there going to be enough room? They should be able to get educated in Exmouth.

"They are trying to make a quick buck. I feel so strongly I even took the day off from work."

Julian Ashworth, 16, from the college's Student Union, said: "We should have been asked.

"We feel angry that not only there hasn't been any consultation but they haven't even asked for the thoughts of the people affected - the students.

"We have the biggest stake in its future and we feel as though our opinions just don't matter and we feel marginalised."

Politicians on the coach were equally bemused - Labour parliamentary candidate Gareth Manson said it was typical of a 'slash-and-burn' Tory council while town Councillor Malcolm Mitchell felt equally sidelined: "As a Withycombe Raleigh governor, I see the children who will be the future sixth form students, and many won't be able to get an education in their home town."

Ian Cann of the Civic Society said: "At our last meeting, every member supported Rolle College for use by the community; there was not one dissenting voice.

"What are we going to have? A few students sent here a few there; oh, we can fit a few more in that college.

"This isn't an educational policy, it's a missed opportunity and I can't believe the county council don't see that.

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