International conservation campaign group Docomomo has hit out at Wandsworth Council’s controversial plans to partially demolish John Bancroft’s 1954 Elliott School in Putney, south west London
In a letter to councillors sent ahead of a major demonstration by the Save Elliott School campaign scheduled for tonight (4 July), the organisation’s co-chair James Dunnett slammed the local authority for failing to apply for funding under the government’s £2 billion priority schools building programme (PSBP) to restore the building.
He went on to refute claims the building was ineligible for PSBP funding due to its listed status and urged the council to ‘postpone any consideration of damaging and unsustainable funding methods such as selling off school grounds until it has established whether Government funding is not indeed available for Elliott - as one would expect it to be.’ (see full letter below).
At a meeting tonight, Wandsworth’s finance committee will vote on whether to proceed with £22 million self-funding plans to transform the Grade II-listed post war comprehensive into an Ark Schools academy.
The local authority previously intended to sell off close to two thirds of its land for housing – including several tennis courts, an athletics field and football pitch – but concessions now mean 40 per cent of the site is at risk. A combined gym and technical workshop block could still be demolished under the proposal.
Hawkins\Brown is working for developer Lend Lease on the academy vision which has already been criticised by local residents, former students, The Twentieth Century Society and John Bancroft’s widow, Janet.
Elliott School was due to undergo a £40.3 million revamp under Labour’s £55 billion Building Schools for the Future programme before it was axed by education secretary Michael Gove in July 2010.
Councillors at the committee tonight will vote on whether to proceed with making a section 77 application for permission for the sale.
The Save Elliott School campaign has planned a simultaneous protest outside Wandsworth Town Hall taking place from 6.30pm.
Campaign founder and former pupil Ed Lattimore said: ‘Two weeks ago a special council meeting for Elliott School was cancelled in spite of the campaign and English Heritage’s preparations to address the committee. At a following meeting the council then refused another of our formal requests to speak. This was in spite of being told to come up with alternatives and to present further information.’
The campaign group said 96 per cent of respondents to a public consultation in May rejected the proposals.
It also claimed £30 million has been spent by the council buying sites for two free schools elsewhere in the borough.
Docomomo letter to Wandsworth councillors
The following letter states the position of Docomomo UK with regard to the proposed demolition of part of Elliott School and sale of school
Wandsworth Council has not applied for the official funding that is likely to be available for renovation works to this listed school, and it should not be resorting at this stage to the damaging measure of selling off a large part of the school grounds and associated demolition works. The care and protection of a listed building by the responsible owner is not to be achieved by the demolition of the building.
DOCOMOMO-UK is the UK branch of the international association for the conservation of significant works of Modern architecture, of which Elliott School is one. We wrote during the consultation period to oppose the proposed sell-off and demolitions. We were concerned to be told that these measures were necessary because Elliott School was not eligible for the PSBP funding (put in place by the Government for ‘urgent cases’ to replace the BSF programme that was originally to have funded the renovation) ‘because it is listed’.
An enquiry to the Department for Education to establish whether Elliott could really be excluded from funding on such grounds, and if so why, elicited the reply (Case Reference 2012/0039350) that is copied at the bottom of this email: no application had been made for PSBP funding for Elliott, but there is no confirmation that listed status precludes PSBP funding, and there is confirmation that ‘the Department continues to fund the repair and maintenance of school buildings with capital funding that is allocated to local authorities for the maintenance of schools in their area’.
This has also been confirmed in a statement issued by the Minister, Michael Gove, on 24 May 2012, which states that 587 schools applied for PSBP funding and 261 were successful, but that ‘I recognize that many of the schools that … have been unsuccessful will also have significant condition needs. Some of these will have their needs addressed through other funding we have made available for maintenance … those schools which need renovation will have their needs addressed as quickly as possible’.
The idea that Elliott might be excluded from PSBP funding because it is listed seems to have arisen from para 11 in the Partnership for School circular letter of 19 July, 2011 which stated that ‘Schools may not be eligible for inclusion in the programme where buildings Listed under Planning Regulations in any form comprise more than 30% of the school’s gross internal floor area. This is because, for VfM [Value of Money] reasons, the programme is only suitable for schools that have to be substantially rebuilt’.
Note that such schools ‘may’ rather than ‘will’ not be eligible - and there is no way of knowing without applying! If unsuccessful, the school could then become eligible for the alternative funding referred to by Mr Gove, and in the reply to our enquiry from the DfE. The scope of renovation works required at Elliott is reported to be on a scale that in value, if not in nature, is likely to be comparable to its being ‘substantially rebuilt’. There is no reason why the Government should exclude a school just because it is listed - on the contrary it should be an added reason for funding it.
The Government does not intend as a result of the closure of the BSF programme to leave high and dry and facing closure maintained schools in urgent need. Wandsworth Council should postpone any consideration of damaging and unsustainable funding methods such as selling off school grounds until it has established whether Government funding is not indeed available for Elliott - as one would expect it to be.
Documentation and Conservation of buildings, sites and neighourhoods of the Modern Movement
Docomomo blasts council over Elliott School redevelopment plans