Wandsworth Council approved the controversial sale of Elliott School’s playing fields last night despite opposition from architects, campaigners and conservation groups
The local authority’s finance committee voted seven to one in favour of proposals to refurbish the Grade II-listed 1954 comprehensive by selling around 40 per cent of its grounds for luxury housing.
The council argued the scheme – which would see the school transformed into an Ark Schools academy – was the only way to fund improvements to the dilapidated building.
But critics at the meeting last night demanded the council seek alternative funding options and considering borrowing money to pay for the works, thought to cost up to £50 million.
They argued the loss of six tennis courts, a large games pitch and a nature reserve would seriously harm the school’s architecture and educational offer to students, vowing to continue their battle with potential legal action.
Council leader Ravi Govindia was handed a 55,000-signature petition against the sale by campaigners before the meeting started. Opposition to the proposals include RIBA president Angela Brady, former ambassador to Iraq Terence Clark, Docomomo, the Twentieth Century and English Heritage.
Speaking at the meeting, Giovanni Cantarella chair of the Manor Fields Estate which borders the school, called on the council to fix the existing sports provision and investigate alternative funding options.
In response, the council’s director of finance, Chris Buss, said borrowing funds would see the council face ‘difficult decisions’ about what services it could provide and what charges it would be forced to levy.
However Labour councillor James Daley, who voted against the proposals, told the committee: ‘Borrowing could be undertaken and this council chooses not to. Once it is sold off it is no longer open space. The suggestion there is no choice is not true.’
Former Elliott student Jason Leech, speaking on behalf of the Save Elliott School campaign, said school playing fields were ‘sacrosanct’ and selling them was a ‘bad idea’.
As a result of the redevelopment ‘slowly but surely informal play and sport would be supplanted by more sedentary activities’, he claimed.
‘[Wandsworth Council] have got the future of Elliott School fundamentally wrong,’ he said.
He argued reducing the site would see Elliott fall short of government minimum size recommendations.
Head teacher Mark Phillips argued the improved facilites would benefit students, parents and staff. ‘No head teacher would willingly say “take away my site”, but we have a landscape [proposal] that will allow us a wide range of activity,’ he said.
He added: ‘I’m really concerned when people say this needs to be more considered. I’m living in world where my school faces very big trouble. We are struggling to pull together a budget for next academic year based on the sort of numbers we are having coming in.’
In a statement, council education spokesman councillor Kathy Tracey said: ‘Unfortunately in these very difficult economic times, there is no other way of raising enough money to transform Elliott into the high quality school that young people in the area deserve.
‘We believe these plans offer the best chance of keeping the school viable and ensuring it remains the choice of parents in Putney for decades to come.’
Plans to also demolish and sell the site of Elliott School’s gym and technical teaching block have been put on hold while the local authority investigates the possibility of rebuilding the structure.
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