Billingshurst head ‘deeply frustrated’ at council’s decision to use school as polling station

A Billingshurst school is urging the council to free it from the ‘burden’ of being a polling station.

Thursday, 14th November 2019, 10:46 am

Headteacher of Billingshurst Primary School, Helen Williamson said she is ‘deeply frustrated’ after Horsham District Council rejected her plea for the school not to be used as a polling station.

But a spokeswoman for the council said it tries to avoid using schools and the short notice of the general election meant it was unable to identify and secure new polling stations at the same time as meeting the statutory deadlines for publishing relevant notices.

Helen said: “We will just have to deal with it. Long term we will work to make sure this does not happen again.

Billingshurst Primary School. Pic Steve Robards SR1702068 SUS-170702-115046001
Billingshurst Primary School. Pic Steve Robards SR1702068 SUS-170702-115046001

“We’ll continue to campaign to ensure in the future they see reason and find an alternative or just have two polling stations in Billingshurst.

“We’re being forced to be a polling station. Allow the school to be free of this burden.”

The move impacts on children, and using the school as a polling station poses safeguarding and disruption issues, she added.

The council spokeswoman said: “We avoid using schools for polling stations wherever possible and of the 66 polling stations in our district, only six are in schools.

“We conducted a review of polling districts and polling places in September.

“The aim of the review was to ensure that all electors have reasonable facilities for voting and that, so far as is reasonable and practicable, polling places are accessible to all electors.

“The venues must be able to accommodate the volume of electors within the relevant polling district.

“Billingshurst School is the only venue that has written to us asking us to seek an alternative location.

“The headteacher put forward several suggestions. One was at a leisure centre, but this is operated by a school during the day, and the other suggestions are not in the relevant polling district.

“We notified all polling stations of our intention to use them for the upcoming general election on Wednesday 30 October.

“By the time the headteacher had written to us, a week later, the poll cards with the address of the polling stations were already with the printers and the mailing house.”

But Helen said she contacted the council ‘immediately’ when she found out the plans to again use the school as a polling station.

She added: “There’s always a solution. This is not for me a political issue.

“I’m all for supporting democracy and the right to vote is essential. My issue is about the location of where that happens.”

In a further statement, the council spokeswoman said safeguarding is down to the head and the council had offered to work to minimise disruption.

There is no other location that meets the requirements of a polling place that is not used by a school, she added.

She said: “The Leisure Centre is used by the Weald Community School during the day.”

The council published its review on its website on September 24 and complied with electoral commission guidelines, she said.

She added some of the statutory consultees asked for an alternative but no suitable alternative was identified.

It rang the school on October 31 but the head did not respond until November 6, by which time the council was committed, she added.

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