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Camden New Journal
Published: 5 October 2006
John Howse, Emma Jones and Polly Shields
Campaigners for a new school in south Camden, from left: John Howse, Emma Jones and Polly Shields
Camden Council has announced plans for a new school, but campaigners say it is in the wrong end of town. Special report by Richard Osley

Biggest education shake-up for years

The Town Hall’s proposals for a new school have failed to please protesters

FLAGSHIP proposals for a brand new school in Swiss Cottage have been hammered out at the Town Hall, wrecking hopes of one opening in the south of the borough.
The Lib Dem and Conservative administration dropped the bombshell that they have chosen a site in Adelaide Road for a completely new school on Friday.
It is regarded as a “once of a lifetime” opportunity by education chiefs but the plan leaves little scope for a new school to be built south of the Euston Road in the foreseeable future, despite the massive campaign mounted by parents in the area appealing for help.
Instead, the Town Hall is hoping to capitalise on the government’s Building Schools for the Future (BSF) programme to begin work on a site currently home to Frank Barnes school for deaf children and Swiss Cottage special school.
The new Adelaide Road school will cater for 900 pupils and a further 250 sixth-formers. A special school will be built next door to incorporate the existing Swiss Cottage and Jack Taylor special schools.
Up to £200 million is up for grabs if ministers approve the plans.
Conservative education chief Councillor Andrew Mennear said: “This is an exciting project like Camden hasn’t seen before. It can really make a difference.”
The issue is highly controversial but critical to the new administration because both the Lib Dems and the Tories promised to open a new school in their council election manifestos in May. The overall aim is to soothe the annual scramble for places at Camden’s high-performing secondary schools and to encourage more families to choose the borough’s state schools.
In the same BSF jigsaw, all of Camden’s existing secondary schools will be refurbished and in some cases expanded to improve facilities and increase annual intake.
When asked at a press briefing on Friday about their state, council chiefs stopped short of describing the borough’s schools as “crumbling” but conceded they all need some urgent work to bring them up to modern standards.
Many of the individual projects at existing schools will be propped up by Private Finance Initiatives (PFI) similar to the contract that gave Japanese investors Kajima control of the Haverstock School site in Chalk Farm as part of a major makeover.
With the new school campaign in the south of the borough in mind, education chiefs are playing up plans to expand South Camden Community School in Somers Town.
Cllr Mennear said: “We know that parents living south of the Euston Road and in the north west of the borough wanted to see a secondary school near their homes, but this was never a competition between the two areas.
“Officers have investigated sites across Camden including all those suggested by residents. None of the sites were big enough or affordable or could be made available on time to meet BSF deadlines, except for Adelaide Road.”
A list of sites that were considered but ultimately rejected included the Eastman Dental Hospital in Gray’s Inn Road in King’s Cross, land behind the British Library in Euston and the Mount Pleasant postal sorting offices on the Islington border in Clerkenwell.
In the north of the borough, car parks in Belsize Road and behind the 02 Centre in Finchley Road – both in Swiss Cottage – were also in the frame but later thrown out.
Cllr Mennear said: “Some of the sites that have been suggested were too expensive to buy. We had to look in the end at sites that we already owned. We couldn’t use the BSF money to buy the site, only to build the school.” He said that the previous Labour administration had been wrong to close down Sir Richard of Chichester school in Kentish Town – now a block of flats.
Cllr Mennear said: “We registered our concern about it at the time.”
Lib Dem Councillor John Bryant, who holds the Town Hall’s children’s portfolio, said: “We promised a new secondary school and within six months of the new administration we have plans to deliver it.
“This is one of the biggest developments in education in Camden for many years and I am greatly looking forward to watching the plans develop over the coming months. Labour wouldn’t have done this.”
Labour did not pledge a new school in their election literature but members were reminding rivals this week that they had promised to “explore all the options”.
Shadow education chief Councillor Geethika Jayatilaka said: “We wanted to see a full public debate on where a new school should be built. This has been handed down with little discussion.”
The proposals are likely to be rubber-stamped by senior councillors on Wednesday and will then spend a year in consultation.
Cllr Jayatilaka added: “The proposals have been very guarded and even some councillors haven’t been told about what is going on. We wanted to see where the need for a new school was greatest. These decisions need to be taken with all of the facts in place because there isn’t going to be an opportunity like this for a while.”
She added that a lot of the refurbishment work at existing schools had been in the pipeline during Labour’s reign.
Cllr Jayatilaka added: “It is also not clear about what will happen to special school provision, it is not clear what will happen to Frank Barnes.”
Nobody has publicly linked the decision to Camden’s political map and the Conservative and Lib Dem support in the north west of the borough. But privately some opponents are concerned the Labour heartlands of Holborn, Bloomsbury and King’s Cross have been ignored.
Outside of the Town Hall, Emma Jones, one of the chief organisers of the south of the Euston Road lobby, said that campaigners would not give up and use the consultation period to convince councillors to think again.
She was amongst speakers at an education committee meeting last night (Wednesday) as the fightback began.
Ms Jones said: “It’s not good enough just to say to some of the poorest children that the costs are too high for you to have a new school. We have shown that the need is here.”
She said the South Camden expansion plan did not take into account the planned redevelopment of King’s Cross and population increases, while the changes to Maria Fidelis would only help Catholic boys.
The new school will be close to Quintin Kynaston which is in Swiss Cottage but on the Westminster side of the borough boundaries. Places at QK are reserved for pupils who attend Westminster primaries – a rule that Camden tried to enforce for its own secondary schools until a legal challenge by parents in Islington saw the policy collapse. It will also be near to Haverstock in Chalk Farm.
Ms Jones said the main aim should have been south of the Euston Road where there is no obvious secondary school beyond South Camden.
She said: “A comprehensive survey has not happened. Instead, a questionnaire in the Camden magazine Your Camden is being mooted. This is not a consultation, but an insult. What are they saying to families in our area? This ‘Once in a Lifetime’ opportunity to invest £150 or £200 million in Camden’s secondary provision is not being offered to our families because land values in our area are deemed too high. Our acute local need is acknowledged but simply not addressed.”
There were similar reservations from the Camden branch of the National Union of Teachers.
Membership secretary Andrew Baisley said: “We welcome the investment into new schools but we do have concerns. We have not been convinced that there is a need for a new school at the Swiss Cottage site when there is a clear campaign for a new school in the south of the borough.
“There are sites that have been dismissed on cost. I think the council could come up with an imaginative way of getting round that.
“To just dismiss possible sites on cost seems hasty.”

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