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School

Bromley Council has refused planning permission to a free school it had itself invited to open in the borough. It sounds like a bizarre silly season story but it is anything but funny as the mystifying chain of events left over 50 Bromley children, who were already on their summer holidays, wondering where they will go to school in September.

I have castigated the Labour council in my borough of Hammersmith & Fulham for their callous chicanery in withdrawing the site of Fulham Boys’ School for ideological reasons at the last minute, leaving children with nowhere to go to school next term. Only the intervention of London Mayor Boris Johnson saved the day.

It is appalling that a Conservative Council could do effectively the same thing – with only five weeks to go before a school opens.

The consternation in the homes of the affected children and the immense stress which will have disrupted those families’ summer holidays, is all the more painful to imagine because it was caused by Conservative councillors. All the children were offered alternative places within a week and that is the only creditable aspect of this sorry episode.

The new primary free school was invited to open by the administration in Bromley and had the support of the council’s education and planning officers. But it was blocked by a Cllr Russell Mellor on Bromley’s Plans Sub-committee four. Cllr Mellor and the man whose plans he blocked, Cllr Stephen Wells the Cabinet member for education, both sit for Copers Cope ward.

It is difficult to discern what the motive for the rebellion was but it can hardly be pretended that it was in the interests of the children. The official objection was that the school would have caused “light pollution” – but it would be surrounded by a tall hedge and by 65 feet away from the nearest house. The planning officers, in their professional judgment, had felt confident enough to recommend approval.

The numbers of primary age pupils in adjacent wards are projected to increase by over 20 per cent in some cases over the next few years.

The free school was to be sited in temporary accommodation in the spacious grounds of the existing Harris Academy, Beckenham. The Academy buildings are old and the Education Funding Agency has allocated money to knock them down and rebuild the school to modern standards. It also hoped to construct a new permanent home for the primary at the same time. However, Bromley has also refused planning permission for the rebuild, effectively throwing the EFA’s money back in its face.

It did not take long for strong disappointment at the apparent shambles to be signalled from the DfE and City Hall. However, the Council Leadership feebly lacked the resolve to step in and use its overall majority of 42 to restore its policy.

What this says about the leadership of Cllr Stephen Carr and the respect he is accorded by his group I am not sure. His insouciance is extraordinary.

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