The government’s Department for Education spent more than three quarters of a million pounds on the doomed planning application for the International Academy of Greenwich free school – taking the total bill for the controversial school so far to over £7 million.
The school announced its closure in October after the Greenwich Council refused planning permission for new buildings on the Bowring Sports Ground in Lee. Councillors unanimously threw out the scheme over its proposed use of Metropolitan Open Land, which is protected from development unless there are special circumstances.
A need for school places could have counted as a special circumstance, but council planners said the school “failed to provide a convincing case” that such a need existed.
Now an answer to a Freedom of Information request has revealed that the cost of preparing the planning application was £766,509, “which included surveys, design and consultant fees, eg, architectural, planning, transport, ecology”.
While free schools are set up and run independently of local councils, they are still funded by the Department for Education, which handled the application to build the new school.
The figure is on top of at least £6.3 million previously spent on the school since 2012. The DfE paid a 10 per cent deposit, worth £400,000, to secure the Bowring site it planned to use for redevelopment. It has also been paying rent to use its current premises at Kings Church on Meadowcourt Road.
A DfE spokesperson said: “The International Academy of Greenwich will close in Summer 2020 to all pupils from years 7 to 9. However, it will maintain open for year 10 pupils until summer 2021. This is not a decision that has been taken lightly.
“Our priority is to ensure that pupils continue to receive a strong education, and the trust and local authority are working together to ensure appropriate provision has been found for students following the closure.”
The International Academy of Greenwich has been contacted for comment on the figure.
853 reported on neighbours’ objections to the school scheme in October 2018, and both Lewisham and Greenwich councils stated in planning documents that they did not need the extra school places.
However, one parent, with two children still at the school, claimed Greenwich Council had misled parents, adding: “It would have been a sound investment for the future education of the children in the school and future generations.
“The current situation sees those children cast aside, with no thought about the impact on them, and that is where the real waste is.”
Grainne Cuffe is the Local Democracy Reporter for Lewisham. The Local Democracy Reporter Service is a BBC-funded initiative to ensure councils are covered properly in local media.
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