Decision on controversial school expansion due next week
A long-running and bitter saga surrounding plans to expand a school next to a park will finally be heard next week.
Merton Council’s application to expand Dundonald Primary School in Fairlawn Road, Wimbledon, will be judged by councillors at a planning committee meeting on Thursday, January 17, at Merton Civic Centre.
It comes after Boris Johnson, the Mayor of London, decided not to take the decision out of Merton’s hands, with conditions to ensure the applications complies with London planning laws.
The plans have been part of the council’s aggressive expansion of primary schools that have seen an additional 22 extra classes added since 2010.
But campaigners from Protect Dundonald Rec have staunchly opposed the plans because they will result in a loss of community use of the tennis courts, the loss of a bowling green, and may violate a historic covenant that restricts building on Dundonald Recreation Ground.
Despite months of consultation since the council's planning application was registered in April 2012, the government agency Sport England has objected to the scheme because of its concern public sporting facilities would be lost.
Sport England's continued objection could prove fatal to the scheme, as it would then have to be referred to Eric Pickles, the secretary of state for local government, who could overturn the planning committee's decision.
The application was also flagged up to the Greater London Authority, which said the plan was "acceptable" as long as they opened up the Multi-use Games Area (MUGA) to the public during school hours.
The council wants the MUGA to be used by the school until 3.30pm on school days, with public access in the late afternoon and evenings, which it says is what currently happens now informally.
In its report to the planning committee, the council says: "The Headteacher has advised that the MUGA has rarely been used by members of the public during the school hours in the time that she has been employed at the school, and when it has been, those members of the public have voluntarily vacated it for the school to use."
Lorraine Maries, chairman of Protect Dundonald Rec, said the council’s plan was floundering because school places could not be provided until September 2014 at the earliest and there was little long-term demand for extra places in the Dundonald area.
She said: “The council’s planning case for Dundonald is in tatters. The council should stop wasting time and money on this hopeless scheme and look at the many better options available.”
She also cited a recent report, by property consultants Capita that identified seven alternative locations where a new school could be built, two of which are already owned by Merton Council.
But the council’s cabinet member for education, Councillor Martin Whelton, said: “Because we’re faced with the challenge of educating an unprecedented number of children local to where they live, we wanted to explore all possible opportunities.
“The Capita Report states the expansion of Dundonald School is the only option to provide additional places in central Wimbledon in the short to medium term.”
Coun Whelton became cabinet member for education last year after his predecessor, Coun Peter Walker, was sacked after being filmed ripping down a poster in the Rec which supported Protect Dundonald Rec.
In June 2011, a public meeting held at the school was so well attended that parents and residents - and Wimbledon MP Stephen Hammond - were told they could not come in, while the Wimbledon Guardian was banned from taking photographs of the speakers.