Furious neighbours are fighting back against plans to relocate a free school to the bottom of their gardens in a quiet cul-de-sac in Lee.
Residents of Hamlea Close, just off Eltham Road, are angry about the International Academy of Greenwich’s plans to build a new site on the former Bowring Sports Ground, behind their houses.
The school is currently based in an office building in nearby Meadowcourt Road owned by the evangelical King’s Church, but wants to open on the new site in September 2021.
But neighbours are unhappy about the plans, saying a new school is not needed and adding that the site is Metropolitan Open Land – a designation designed to protect it from development – as well as a flood plain for the nearby River Quaggy.
Free schools are directly funded by the Government rather than local authorities, and IAG is hoping that pressure on school places in Greenwich borough will mean it can get permission to build on the land.
But the site is on the border with the borough of Lewisham – where there is much less pressure on school spaces – and just a few hundred metres from another secondary school, Trinity Lewisham. Half the school’s catchment area is in Lewisham borough.
Residents say the area and local bus services already struggle to cope with that and other local schools. Lee Green is a busy junction and fills with schoolchildren at the end of Trinity’s working day, with children from other schools passing through, but there are no extra bus services laid on.
Neighbour Jane de Baeke, whose garden would back onto the proposed site, told 853: “It’s is a highly unsuitable location for a school as it opens on to Eltham Road, always has a has a high volume of traffic and often accidents. An additional 750 pupils will add to further congestion and pollution.
“It is also a flood plain and reservoir for the river Quaggy – when it floods, the water comes right across the field. To develop it a school on it will have a serious impact on the local environment.
“The school classrooms are too near existing properties and will be an intrusion of privacy and right to light.
Another neighbour, who declined to be named, said: “It is also site of site of importance for nature conservation, statutory reservoir, flood storage area and critical drainage area.
She added: “Pupil numbers have declined. The school has never been oversubscribed, despite reducing admissions by 40% in September 2018.”
De Baeke added: “It’s a waste of taxpayers’ money.”
Costs to taxpayer
The school’s current annual rent and service charge on the King’s Church site is £394,000, while the taxpayer has also picked up the bill for refurbishing the temporary facility.
According to a Freedom of Information answer seen by 853, the government’s Education and Skills Funding Agency has spent £1.1 million on costs at the King’s Church site and plans for the Bowring Sports Ground, while it has spent a further £3.2 million in funding the school’s revenue costs.
IAG says that “by opening in temporary accommodation, it is supporting Greenwich Council’s need to provide urgent pupil places”.
A 2016 impact assessment concluded that the IAG could “affect the long term viability” of two Lewisham borough schools, Haberdashers Askes Knights Academy in Downham and Prendergast Ladywell; while in April, Lewisham cancelled plans to expand Addey & Stanhope School in New Cross because of a drop in demand.
In Greenwich borough, the viability assessment said the IAG could threaten Shooters Hill Post-16 Campus. However, figures presented to a council scrutiny committee in September 2017 predicted a shortfall in the number of secondary school places from 2021, despite the likes of Leigh Academy Blackheath, St Mary Magdalene and Greenwich Trust School opening in recent years.
‘Best place for a school’
London mayor Sadiq Khan has made protecting Metropolitan Open Land a key plank of his planning policy. Last year, he refused plans for Cray Wanderers FC to build a new ground and housing at Flamingo Park, off the Sidcup by-pass, because the site is Metropolitan Open Land – even though Bromley Council had supported the scheme.
Since September, IAG has been run by Big Education Trust, which also operates School 21, an all-through school in Stratford, and Surrey Square Primary School in Walworth.
Co-director Liz Robinson told 853: “We have carried out an extensive site search and believe that the Bowring Sports Ground is the best place for a new school and that there are no other suitable sites.
“We have flood defence plans in place and have worked hard to minimise the impact the development has on the Metropolitan Open Land. We are not building on the flood plain – the floodplain is the sports pitches. Through the planning process, we have been liaising with the Mayor’s planning team at the Greater London Authority.”
She added: “There is an identified need for school places in the Royal Borough of Greenwich. It anticipates that in addition to current school capacity, a further 17 forms of entry (510 year 7 places) will be required by 2024/25. This need is endorsed by Greenwich’s cabinet, even with the other schools being expanded.
“The International Academy of Greenwich has expanded on its current site and is a popular choice for parents and children for their education. It is currently running at 86.5% of its pupil admission number. There is strong demand which was confirmed in our recent open day.”
Robinson continued: “We have worked hard to address the concerns of local neighbours. The new design will comprise of two buildings up to four storeys, including a basement level. The design of the buildings is such that it is within guidelines and will not deny them light. Many of the closest properties are south of the proposed school buildings, which means there will be no overshadowing.
“The site is well served by local transport, with 5 direct bus routes and 47 buses per hour at peak times. Transport for London has confirmed that there is good capacity on these bus routes. Where additional capacity is required, these are normally funded through the planning application process.
“We are delighted with the excellent response we’ve had to our two public consultation events on our plans for a permanent site for the International Academy of Greenwich. Our school is popular with local parents and children who have been impressed with our distinctive ethos and curriculum approach.
“There are nearly 250 children who are already pupils at the school who are waiting for the permanent building we have been promised and are working towards.”
Thursday update: Brockley Central editor Nick Barron responded to this story on social media: “My son goes to this school. There are hundreds of kids in an old building, waiting for planning permission.
“It is an excellent school filling a big gap in local education provision and the plans are extremely sensitive to the surrounding area.”
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