Plans to build a new free school on a sports ground in Lee were thrown out by Greenwich councillors on Tuesday night amid jeers and shouts of “you’re a disgrace”.
The meeting at Woolwich Town Hall was packed with supporters of the International Academy of Greenwich and objecting neighbours, some of whom argued as they made their way out of the meeting.
Council planners had recommended the scheme be refused for its use of Metropolitan Open Land – space protected from developments unless there are special circumstances.
The International Academy of Greenwich proposed to build a 765-pupil school on the Bowring Sports Ground. The free school, which offers students the chance to study for a International Baccalaureat, is currently based in an office building in nearby Meadowcourt Road. It said that a vote against the plans was “a vote to close the doors” of the school.
The claim met a frosty reception from planning chair Sarah Merrill, who called for a retraction and an apology, adding that councillors were deciding on planning merit alone.
Later, Merrill said that the government’s Department for Education had presumed the council would allow building on “our Metropolitan Open Land”. “I won’t have mud thrown at the Royal Borough of Greenwich,” she said.
Students at the school appealled to councillors to grant permission for the new buildings. One year 10 student, Jacob, said: “Our school takes up more space every academic year. How is it justifiable to send students about to undergo GCSEs to a brand new school with gaps in their education?
“Our building will be a pinnacle and a beacon for a students. Our new building will reflect positively on Lee. No other school delivers the International Baccalaureat as well as us – our school is unique and beneficial to students and residents.”
Parents praised the school for being open and inclusive and pleaded for their students to have new facilities as they begin to take their GCSEs.
Neighbours concerned with road safety objected to the use of the Metropolitan Open Land and to a lack of parking.
The Eltham MP, Clive Efford, and ward councillors also objected to the plans for similar reasons.
One objector, Mr Williams of Ravens Way, which is adjacent to the site, said: “The school is proposed to be 14m in height – the same size as the Great Wall of China at its highest point. This should help visualise the impact a building this tall this close to our properties will bring.
“There are only eight parking spaces for a school with hundreds of pupils – in reality Ravens Way will become an informal drop-off point. It will become jammed with cars more than it is already. This is out of proportion with the small plot of land it would sit on.”
There was also debate over whether there was sufficient demand for school places to warrant the school. Greenwich Council officers said that the council was expecting to have a surplus of school places.
One of the founders of the school, Liz Robinson, said: “I am a public servant and have served as a headteacher for 13 years. The idea of a school focused on internationalism came from a group of Greenwich residents. It offers much-needed spaces.
“The decision tonight is about more than bricks and mortar – it is about the young people who are already at this school. They are stuck in temporary accommodation, and have faced delay after delay through no fault of their own.”
Councillors voiced their concern that a letter had been sent by the applicant to council leader Danny Thorpe in a bid to garner support for the scheme. Planning meetings are supposed to take place independently of the council leadership.
Nigel Fletcher, the Conservative councillor for Eltham South, said: “On planning terms it is not possible for us to approve this. I am saddened that we are in a position where what may be an excellent school is in a difficult position.
“There is a question as to how it was put together in a way that it was never going to be passed, relying on exceptional circumstances was always a big risk.”
After an hour and 45 minutes of debating, councillors voted unanimously against the scheme, causing upset with parents and students in the audience.
Angry shouts of “you’re a disgrace” were aimed at the committee as the crowd left the room, with arguments also erupting between supporters and objectors.
Tom Bull is the Local Democracy Reporter for Greenwich. The Local Democracy Reporter Service is a BBC-funded initiative to ensure councils are covered properly in local media.
See more about how 853 uses LDRS content.
853 produces public interest journalism for Greenwich and SE London and is part-funded by its readers. If you would like to contribute to keeping the site running, please…
– join well over 100 monthly patrons at www.patreon.com/853.
– make a one-off contribution at paypal.me/853london