Norwich nurseries saved

Learning among young children in two of Norwich's neediest areas has received a big boost after a last-minute rethink on plans to scrap new nurseries.

But there is set to be bitter disappointment in Thorpe St Andrew, after Norfolk County Council proposed the cancellation of a new children's centre for the under-fives at Dussindale.

The pre-school building projects at Catton Grove Primary on Weston Road and at West Earlham Infant on Scarnell Road were among a host of schemes that the council agreed to axe to save �4.618m that the government cut from its pre-school funding.

Now the council has decided to redraw the list, reflecting its desire to concentrate more of the available funding on nursery projects, rather than new children's centres.

It means a likely reprieve for six Norfolk nursery projects, including the ones at Catton Grove and West Earlham. But Dussindale children's centre and a similar scheme at Aylsham have both now been added to the list of abandoned projects.

The latest plan will be discussed by the county council's children's services overview and scrutiny panel tomorrow before a final decision is made by cabinet on Monday.

Tim Lawes, headteacher at Catton Grove Primary, said the �355,000 nursery scheme would boost the number of pre-school places from 78 to 102.

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Last month, he expressed annoyance at the council's decision to axe the project. But he has warmly welcomed the 11th-hour change of heart.

He said: 'The county council has looked very carefully and dispassionately at the criteria against which each project was assessed.

'We had a very compelling case for the reinstatement of this scheme. Now it looks as though it will go ahead, which is great news for us - and even better news for the community. If it is confirmed, it should be open in time for summer term 2011.

'This will make a massive difference. There's very little high quality pre-school provision in this community.'

He added: 'The avowed intention of the council administration is to narrow the achievement gap. Our community falls into the category of 'have nots'.

'With this year's cohort of nursery-aged children, who have had access to a range of provision for the last three to four years, the attainment of those children is considerably higher than we've previously experienced.

'We are anxious to build on that.'

No-one was available for comment at West Earlham, but the report to the panel said there was a 'high level of deprivation in the area', high numbers of children with special needs and rising demand for early years childcare places - making it 'vital' to intervene.

The report said the Dussindale children's centre scheme was 'dependent on health care providers making a contribution to ongoing costs'. But the lease agreement had not been settled, making the project 'not now deliverable'.

It added that links could be made with children's centres at Thorpe Hamlet and Acle, to ensure that local children were covered by the children's centre provision.

Alison Thomas, cabinet member for children's services, said: 'In reviewing capital spending across our early years programmes, we have thankfully now found a way to save the vast majority of nursery and pre-school programmes.

'However, the cut means we are in the regrettable position where we cannot proceed with some of our plans for new phase three children's centre buildings in the county. Children's centre services are running and will continue in all of these areas but the building plans to support this work must now be scaled back.'

Overall, building work will be cancelled for nine children's centres, with four going ahead. Nine nursery places projects are likely to go ahead, with a scheme at Hevingham the only one to miss out.