A senior councillor’s future as education chief has been thrown into question pending an investigation into complaints that he allegedly broke council rules while campaigning for the expansion of a school.

Councillor Peter Walker, Merton Council’s cabinet member for education, allegedly brought the council into disrepute because of a letter he sent to residents living near Dundonald Primary School in Wimbledon.

It is the first time since 2008 that a complaint against a councillor has been deemed serious enough to be investigated externally and, if upheld, would almost certainly cost Coun Walker his post as education spokesman.

Letter from Labour party may have breached Data Protection Act

The letter sought to rebuff what Coun Walker described as false propaganda being distributed by the Save Dundonald Rec campaign group, which was launched last month to prevent the council redeveloping the school on land they claim is protected by a legal covenant.

But members of the group complained that Coun Walker had wrongly represented himself on behalf of the council, when he should have said it was a message from the Labour party, and that he may have breached the Data Protection Act by improperly using the electoral register to obtain names and addresses.

Lorraine Kember, one of three members of the group which complained, said: “If someone is talking about a policy as a member of the council then they are obligated to check their facts with the council.

“There were errors in this letter which we believe were not checked by the council and it didn’t clearly say it was a political letter, which is wrong.”

Councillor Walker: "People know I'm a Labour politician"

Coun Walker told the Wimbledon Guardian: “I am very confident what we have been doing, to provide people with the facts about Dundonald Primary School, is what we’ve been doing.

“This letter was distributed by the Labour party because it was a political letter. To not include the logo was a decision for the Labour party.

"There was no confusion about it coming from Merton Council and people know I’m a Labour politician.

“The data used was taken straight from the table that we produced in the consultation document last Autumn that went to all Dundonald residents and showed a 30 per cent increase in children who will need school places. That’s data from the Office of National Statistics.”

“It is symptomatic of denying that facts that we have a 30 per cent rise of children come to our schools. Some people just do not like any change at all.

“I am a new boy in the council and I will answer any questions put to me. But I can’t believe that the Labour Party putting out this letter from me is wrong.”

His opposite number, Conservative education spokesman Councillor Richard Hilton, said: “As councillors we are elected to serve the people of the borough with integrity and if anyone is found to have broken the rules – even in spirit – then that is a serious breach of trust with the electorate.

“Knowing Councillor Walker and his passion for his portfolio, I hope the allegations prove to be unfounded.”

Helen White, the council monitoring officer, said an independent investigator outside of Merton will investigate the matter and report back to the Standards Committee on whether the allegations against Coun Walker are to be upheld.

That letter in full:

I am writing to you as a matter of urgency to counter some of the alarming information that is circulating about the future of Dundonald Rec in relation to the expansion of Dundonald School.

Next week, Merton Council will begin consulting with local residents about the proposals to expand Dundonald Primary School from a one form entry of 210 pupils, to a two-form entry school of 420 pupils.

Dundonald Primary School has an outstanding Ofsted rating and is oversubscribed year after year. People move to Wimbledon because it is a great place to live and bring up children. Merton Council has a legal and moral duty to provide places for all primary aged children in its area. There has been a 30% growth in pupils of primary age across the Borough and many are here in Central Wimbledon.

Year children enter reception class Total applying for primary school places in Merton Rise from 2007/8
2007/8 2,612
2008/9 2,785 173
2009/10 2,893 281
2010/11 2,972 360
2011/12 3,250 638
2012/13 3,320 708

The current situation at Dundonald is that children need to live within approximately 200 metres to get a place at the school. It is not an exact science as numbers vary from year to year, but currently children living in the roads listed below tend not to get a place in Dundonald.

Graham Road, Hartfield Crescent, Hartfield Road, Henfield Road, Kingston Road, Kingswood Road, Merton Hall Road, Toynbee Road, Worple Road.

If the proposed expansion goes ahead we are likely to be able to offer places to children in these roads, if it does not they are unlikely to get a place at this outstanding local school.

The Future of Dundonald Park

Let me make it clear on a personal level, I am a local resident with a family and I am a founder member of the Friends of Dundonald Park – in face the AGM of Friends of Dundonald was once held in the loft of my hours. I have planted both trees, and bulbs for the Spring and I job around the park most mornings. I would fight any plan which puts in jeopardy the wonderful facilities this lovely park provides.

The plans to expand Dundonald, which you will be able to see during the consultation, have been sensitively designed so that the area to be built on will only occupy the space currently occupied by the existing dilapidated pavilion. The amount of open space in Dundonald Park will be the same as it is now and there will be a £6m development giving local residents a new pavilion and an expanded local school. At a time of Government-imposed public spending cuts this is a chance to invest in the park and provide an excellent education locally for our children.

Save Dundonald Rec Campaign

Unfortunately the “Save Dundonald Rec” Campaign has been distributing an alarming poster showing Merton Council blocking up the entrance to the Park. The poster is brilliant propaganda and makes a strong point, but that point has no basis in reality.

I urge you to come along to look at the Council’s proposals. Also think of the 210 local children who each year will be able to attend an outstanding local school, to say nothing of us in the community who will gain a modern pavilion.

Merton does not have the option to do nothing. We have a statutory obligation to educate our children. Think of how you would feel if you 4-year-old or your grandchild had to travel to Morden to go to junior school.

So far there has only been one side to this argument. If you support the plan to improve Dundonald Park or have any other comments, please let us know by emailing me at peter.walker@merton.gov.uk or by calling the office on 020 8540 5151.

Best Wishes, Peter Walker Cabinet Member for Education Merton Council

PS. This is for everyone in your household to see so please share it and also share with others who may be affected by the plans.

What do you think? Leave a comment below, call 020 8722 6335 or email: ooakes@london.newsquest.co.uk.

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