Greenwich Council leader Denise Hyland has called a £1m settlement on a land dispute at a Kidbrooke academy an “investment” in the school’s future.
The council is paying £1m to settle an issue dating back to when the former Kidbrooke School became Corelli Academy, “London’s first co-operative academy”, in 2011.
However, the school has now been taken over by a new trust and has been renamed Halley Academy.
The land was rushed through ahead of Leigh’s formal takeover, so councillors couldn’t “call in” the payment for scrutiny.
In a decision made in January which hadn’t previously bene made public, Leigh Academies Trust is also receiving a further half a million pounds for “essential health and safety works”.
Conservative councillor Spencer Drury raised the total £1.5m payment at last week’s Greenwich Council meeting, using the budget debate to bring the topic to the attention of council leader Denise Hyland.
“Is the leader going to be honest about what she’s spending people’s money on?,” he asked.
“People won’t mind spending their money on this, but over half of the council tax increase next year is going to Leigh Academies Trust over Corelli College. How has that happened? I’ve read the reports and they are opaque at best.
“Please, Councillor Hyland, go to the people and tell them ‘yes, it was a small mistake and we’ve got to cough up £1.5 million – let’s call it a million – because we couldn’t draw a map properly’.”
‘They need money desperately’
Hyland responded: “What we have done is purchase two pieces of land from Corelli. I am pleased that this authority is actually investing money in Corelli College, because Leigh Academies Trust have come in to sort out a government academy. That’s the truth, it’s an academy that hasn’t gone well. And the Leigh Academy have come in to rescue that academy and take it to a bright future.”
In a dig at Drury’s employer – he is head of sixth form at private school Colfe’s – she continued: “They need money desperately to make that building fit for purpose, y’know, because they don’t have the fees that another school might have, so they are reliant on the public purse, and those laboratories and other facilities are in a poor way.
“If you took a walk around Corelli and could see the state of that school, I think you would agree that those children are worth investing in.”
She added: “It’s a good deal for the council, and a good deal for Corelli, so no apologies there.”
Hyland amended her answer after Drury sought further clarification on what was happening: “The school have claimed they had legal rights to that land in question, and quite legitimately, we have offered a million pounds in settlement where we own those pieces of land.”
Kidbrooke with Hornfair Labour councillor Christine Grice, a governor at the school, objected to the matter being scrutinised in council, saying: “I think that the debate has been quite helpful and one-sided because we haven’t got the governors’ perspective. I’m happy to talk to you outside the meeting, but I really don’t think it’s appropriate to continue this debate.”