Opposition to Plans to Build on School Land Intensifies

Hammersmith Society launches petition as issue features in Private Eye

A visualisation of the plan for Flora Gardens Primary School from a planning application

June 16, 2023

Hammersmith and Fulham’s programme of giving up land of school sites for development is attracting increasing opposition and national attention.

The Hammersmith Society, in association with a significant number of local amenity groups, has launched a petition against the borough’s Community Schools Programme which has already attracted over 500 signatures. The council plans to use the money raised building flats on the land to cover the cost of upgrading schools.

The society says the programme is ‘robbing the community of green spaces and degrading the local area’ and is a ‘step too far’. In addition, it says the plans devised in 2018 were drawn up without adequate consultation and that community-based alternatives should be considered as a way of funding the maintenance of existing school buildings including opening them up for adult education. It fears that if the plans proceed locally, they could become a blueprint for other local authorities across the country to do the same.

The petition is supported by the Avonmore Residents Association, The Avonmore Action Group, Ravenscourt Action, Friends of Marcus Garvey Park, Argyll and Glyn Mansions, Friends of Ravenscourt Park, and the Brackenbury Residents Association.

It states:

We object because:

  • Playgrounds are important. Their disposal as “superfluous public land” would deprive children and citizens of educational, green and community space
  • The council has provided no evidence to support its position that disposal of school land is the only way to fund school redevelopments
  • The council has not proven that its model of funding redevelopment using the proceeds from the sale of luxury private housing is financially viable
  • The proposed residential developments do not meet the real needs of local people – at least 50% of the homes will be private and unaffordable to most people
  • The council has not shown it has considered other approaches to construction that can be delivered faster, at lower cost and with less environmental impact than the current proposals
  • As both policy-maker and developer, Hammersmith and Fulham Council has shut local people out of the decision-making process:
  • The Community Schools Programme arose from internal consultation with a select few interested parties
  • The Council has not involved the whole community in a meaningful way. Its public “consultation” is a tick-box exercise
  • The Council has ignored or refused to engage with any and all formal representations by those who reject the premise, as well as the process and the substance of the developments proposed

An article in a recent edition of Private Eye claimed that the borough was targeting schools with poorer pupils for inclusion in the programme. It reads, “Once covered in blocks of flats, those school playgrounds are never coming back. No more hopscotch.”

The first stage of the programme would see the development of sites at Avonmore Primary School and Flora Gardens Primary with flats classed as affordable constructed on the school sites some of which could go to teachers. Most of the current outdoor space at the Flora Gardens would be taken up by four blocks up to six storeys high containing up to 150 flats. During the rebuilding, the children would be relocated to the vacant site formerly occupied by Lena Gardens School.

The council says it has been forced to consider such options due to central government funding cuts and that it is the schools that are calling for these plans to go forward.

The main building at Flora Gardens Primary School in Hammersmith was built in 1953 and currently includes many temporary classrooms where as the Avonmore Primary School building in West Kensington was also constructed in the 1950s and is described as “out-dated” by the council.

Another development at the Ark White City School would reduce the area occupied by the school from 8,000 square metres to 3,000 with nearby facilities being made available to children ‘upon agreement’.

A visualisation of the plan for Avonmore Primary School from the planning application
A visualisation of the plan for Avonmore Primary School from the planning application

Permission to build on school land would be required from both the Department for Education and the Mayor of London but it is believed both would give permission for the council’s plans as they are keen to encourage school building in a cost-effective way.

A H&F Council spokesperson said, ““We have consulted widely on these proposals, including no fewer than eight occasions with the Hammersmith Society since 2020, including recently where we discussed its concerns and shared detailed information about the design proposals.

“The Governing Bodies of both schools unanimously approved in April designs in readiness for further public consultation in which we hope the Society and others will continue to participate.

“The very high levels of consultation for a scheme of this nature, including 121 workshops, on these limited projects reflect H&F’s desire to work with residents. It included an extensive listening phase in 2021/22 which demonstrated majority local support for the emerging proposals in both areas.

“The fact remains that the existing school buildings are in a poor state of repair and are no longer fit for purpose. Given the financial limitations on local government and the lack of central government funding for new school buildings, we believe that the proposed approach is the best way to build state of the art schools to the highest standards that local children and staff deserve.

“The schemes will also address the urgent housing crisis and to help address the chronic lack of genuinely affordable housing in the borough by providing over 200 homes of which over half will be genuinely affordable.

“The plans outline significant upgrades to usable outdoor space that are superior to current provision and reflect more fully modern learning needs through play and recreation.

“This approach ensures that the buildings will last and remain flexible for the future curriculum and other needs whilst being harmonious with the local environment.”

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