Greenwich Council planners are recommending councillors back a new 1,150-pupil school at the University of Greenwich’s Mansion Site next to Avery Hill Park – despite a 4,000-signature petition against the scheme and TfL raising concerns about transport.
The Harris academy chain plans to build a boys’ school on the former teacher training college at the northern edge of the park, demolishing 1960s buildings but retaining the listed mansion as well as the neighbouring Honeycomb building, Engine House and stable blocks to the west of the site.
While the Harris application does not include the adjacent Winter Garden, planning documents state Greenwich Council still plans to take on the Victorian conservatory. Planners say the separation of the Winter Garden from its neighbouring historic buildings will “facilitate greater future use of the Winter Garden”.
The appearance of the new school has created a furore among locals and park users, and the Save Avery Hill For The Community campaign had submitted a 4,384-signature petition against the proposals. While the Eltham Society stayed neutral on the scheme, it said the new buildings had “a bland appearance”, although it praised the treatment of the entrance to the mansion.
While planning officers conceded there would be “less than substantial harm” to the site caused by the new school, “there are considerable benefits which would weigh against this” including new school places, a long-term use for heritage buildings and community sports facilities.
Last year, Greenwich councillors refused the International Academy of Greenwich’s attempt to build a school on a sports ground in Lee, partly because the new Harris academy would help fill any shortage of school places in the area.
The loss of a BMX track to the west of the site generated another 2,300-signature petition. Planners say community access to the sports hall, pitches and the multi-use games area will outweigh the loss of the track, which has been in place since 1996. The school will not be compelled to fund a replacement, despite Berkeley Homes having to pay for a skate park in Charlton three years ago when it built on a previous facility in Woolwich.
Transport for London submitted an objection, demanding less car parking and claiming modelling had under-estimated the number of students using public transport. Council planners, however, said the figures were appropriate for an area with relatively poor public transport; an as-yet undecided sum will be handed to TfL to improve local buses.
Plans to build a gate for the school on Bexley Road were scrapped after objections, while the Harris Federation says it will open up the mansion and other historic buildings for three open days each year – less than the 10 days demanded by residents’ groups. The school’s start and finish times will be staggered so as not to coincide with Crown Woods.
Planning officers say: “It is considered that the proposal would cause some harm to the listed heritage assets, however overall, the positive impacts are persuasive. The benefits of the proposal in terms of the conservation, restoration and refurbishment of the heritage assets and the increased access to the heritage buildings secured by the community use agreement far outweigh any harm caused.”
Councillors will decide on the new school at a planning board meeting on October 6. They will also be asked to approve new council housing on a garage site in Well Hall Road, Eltham, and to reject a development next to the Kings Arms pub in Hillreach, Woolwich.
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