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Former ambassador joins Elliott School redevelopment protest

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The former British ambassador to Iraq, Terence Clark, has spoken out against Wandsworth Council’s controversial plans to partially demolish John Bancroft’s 1954 Elliott School in Putney, south west London

The retired diplomat – who is a local resident – is the latest addition to the scheme’s chorus of objectors which so far includes English Heritage, The Twentieth Century Society, Docomomo and John Bancroft’s widow, Janet.

The local authority is pushing ahead with £22 million self-funding plans to transform the 1954 Grade II-listed post war comprehensive into an Ark Schools academy. A section 77 application to dispose of the land – including several tennis courts, an athletics field and football pitch – is expected to be made shortly while a special committee meeting on the project is planned for next month.

The council previously announced plans to sell off close to two-thirds of Elliott School’s grounds for housing but concessions now mean only 40 per cent of the site is at risk. A combined gym and technical workshop block could however still be demolished under the proposal.

Image showing the land and gym/technical block planned for disposal

Image showing the land and gym/technical block planned for disposal. Image by Peter Arkell 2012

Clark was one of several objectors to the £22 million Ark School proposal which were denied requests to make deputations at Wandsworth Council’s finance committee last night (4 July).

Outside the committee room, the ambassador to Iraq from 1985 to 1989 said: ‘We are all in favour of establishing a centre of excellence but opposed to the manner the council seeks to achieve it.

‘The current government is all in favour of preserving school open spaces. It’s difficult for us to reconcile lopping off most of the open spaces and sporting facilities for a school that is struggling to attract students.’

Chartered surveyor and local resident Peter Banks, a former partner at Struttand Parker, described the decision to refuse the deputations as a ‘scandal’.

Rex Osborn, leader of the Labour opposition on Wandsworth Council, said he was ‘stunned’ at the refusal.

‘The Labour party in in principle opposed to all sale of all school playing fields in Wandsworth and will fight to save as much as we can,’ he added.

Former teachers and students of the Save Elliott School campaign held a protest outside Wandsworth Town Hall last night.

John Bancroft’s widow, Janet who attended the protest said: ‘The reason I am doing it is because I believe in saving schools. Wandsworth have their own idealistic agenda and they are predisposed not to look at the building or future of the school sympathetically.’

72-year-old former head boy Paulin Bramdaw

72-year-old former head boy Paulin Bramdaw

72-year-old former head boy and retired journalist Paulin Bramdaw said selling the playing fields meant ‘striking a blow against good health’.

He said: ‘It’s the Olympics and the world is looking at us and saying is there anything we can learn from the British? We’ve got Norman Foster and Stirling and all those other architects. The world is looking at Britain and local authorities like this embarrassing us in the way of their anti-exercise stance.’

He added: ‘When President Nixon was on a state visit to Britain his wife visited Elliott School which indicated its importance. Every month we had overseas visitors and I had to show them around. It was regarded as an outstanding achievement in terms of physical structure and range of subjects on offer.’

The school head teacher, Mark Phillips, also attended the committee meeting and said he ‘fully supported’ the proposals.

Hawkins\Brown is working for developer Lend Lease on the academy vision. 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.

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