The need to provide extra school places in Wimbledon outweighed the loss of public space being lost in a park, a majority of councillors decided last night.

Merton Council's planning application to expand Dundonald primary school, in Fairlawn Avenue, was approved by the planning applications committee at the Civic Centre.

The council chamber was packed with residents, most of whom were against the council's plan and jeered when the decision was made.

The council now has planning permission to do the following:

  • Expand and refurbish the existing main school building;
  • Erect a part first floor/part two storey extension to the existing detached rear annexe building, partly sited on Dundonald Rec – comprising three new classrooms, a school hall, a new studio, kitchen, library, toilets (also new public changing room facilities, toilets, pavilion halls, kitchen and storage;
  • Demolish the pavilion and shed buildings;
  • Do away with the bowling green;
  • Create a new Multi Use Games Area (MUGA), which is closed to the public during school hours;
  • New tennis courts, children’s public playground, outdoor gym, nature garden, footpaths, planting and seating.

There were passionate speeches made by leading members of the council's administration and by the main groups leading the opposition, Protect Dundonald Rec (PDR) and the Friends of Dundonald Park.

Campaigners: Expansion will worsen park and sport usage

Lorraine Maries, chairman of PDR, said: "All the data shows the need has already been met in central Wimbledon.

She added: "The recent Capita report identified the potential for other sites in the Wimbledon area.

"Four of them are owned or partly owned by the council and could be delivered by September 2014."

She described the loss of public open space during school hours would be the equivalent of two Olympic-size swimming pools.

And Paul Gibson, from the Friends, said: "We were very proud when the Rec received a Green Flag award. It would be lost if the Rec became a school expansion site.

"Opposition has hardened as we were shown the overwhelming evidence."

And Councillor David Dean, a Conservative member for Dundonald ward, claimed the Wandgas bowling club has been "thrown out" by the council.

He said: "Dundonald Rec, amazingly, is the most popular park in all of Merton - that includes Wimbledon Park. It has bowls players, tennis players, netball players, football players, and cricket players.

"Four of out these five sports will be reduced in their activity."

Council: School places shortage will worsen if Dundonald does not expand

Councillor Peter Walker, the former cabinet member for education, spoke in support of the application he spearhead before being sacked after being filmed ripping down posters supporting PDR.

He joked: "Some of you may have been entertained be a recent film of me enjoying the facilities of Dundonald park."

He added: "This year has seen local children only been offered places in Liberty school in Mitcham.

"That means a three-and-a-half mile trip through two busy shopping centres instead of a local walk to their school.

"This situation will only worsen if this application is not approved."

Councillor Andrew Judge, the cabinet member for regeneration, said the scheme was an opportunity to revamp an "unsightly pavilion built in the 1960s".

Regarding the loss of the bowling green, formerly home to Wandgas bowls club, he said: "I have asked that we close it because it is simply not viable."

And Councillor Martin Whelton, the current cabinet member for education, said: "Merton has seen a 39 per cent increase in schools admissions.

"Dundonald is one of the most oversubscribed schools in the borough."

The committee is made up of nine councillors who are supposed to act in a quasi-judicial role: four Labour, four Conservative, and one from the Merton Park ward Independents' party.

The application was approved after the Labour councillors and the Merton Park Independent voted for it, while two Conservatives voted against it and two Conservatives abstained.

What the decision-makers said:

Coun Ian Munn (Labour, voted for): "All the planning issues have been addressed and looked at. The application is a right and proper one and we should support the officers' recommendation without reservaton."

Coun John Dehaney (Labour, voted for): "It seems to me the impact on the park and open space is minimal and that shouldnot prevent a school being developed to educate children."

Coun Geraldine Stanford (Labour, voted for): "I can assure you outdoor gyms are not a gimmick. When they were being built in my ward [Figge's Marsh, Mitcham], people were trying to get on them even as the builders were there. It is very popular."

Coun Gregory Udeh (Labour, voted for): did not say anything.

Coun Peter Southgate (Merton Park Independent, voted for): "The alternatives would include expanding some schools to four forms of entry [120 pupils per year]... I think many of us would find that unnerving. I don't see any more comfortable option than this one."

Coun Miles Windsor (Conservative, voted against): "It is simply the case that education provision can't override the principle of preserving our parks and open spaces."

Coun Simon Withey (Conservative, voted against): "I am very suspicious of the guarantees given for no more building within the park and access to so-called new facilities and the loss of the bowling green."

Coun John Bowcott (Conservative, abstained): "The fact that there are three administration councillors here tonight even suggests they were not that confident of the ground they were treading."

Coun Maurice Groves (Conservative, abstained): "It's very difficult to consider the scale of this redevelopment because the drawings are so small."