Campaigners Say Primary School Approval Takes Land From Putney Common

In contradiction to a recent statement by Wandsworth Council

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Open space on Putney Common is set to be reduced after councillors on the Planning Applications Committee held on Wednesday, 19th of September approved plans to replace the derelict old Putney Hospital with a residential development of 24 luxury flats and a new primary school for 420 pupils to be run by an Academy/Free school provider.

The proposed new school would only be partly funded by the construction and sale of the 24 flats at the northern end of the hospital site, on land currently occupied by the now disused nurses' accommodation block. The flats will not provide any affordable housing units but will be taller than the existing nurses’ home.

The Putney hospital site, which was bought from the Wandsworth Primary Care Trust (NHS) in February this year for £4.4m, covers an area of just 0.48 hectares and is surrounded on all sides by Putney Lower Common. The common land is owned by the Wimbledon and Putney Commons Conservators (WPCC) despite being used by the NHS for car parking and access roads over many years. Local residents expected this land to be returned to its original purpose – open space for the public. However agreements have been signed by WPCC and WBC to build a new private access road for the school and flats alongside the school on this common land as well as a turnaround for coaches to facilitate the development. The access fee to be paid by WBC to the Conservators is £250,000.

The Council and Conservators have been challenged by many local residents over their rights to grant this new use of common land which is in contravention of the Act which states “The Conservators shall at all times keep the common open, unenclosed and un-built on.” When questioned about the legality of the agreements at the Planning Applications Committee, the Assistant Director, Planning and Environmental Services stated that they were not planning matters and could not be discussed at the meeting.

Council statistics show that the birth rate for Thamesfield ward has been static for several years, and projections indicate there will be no increase through to 2016/17, unlike many other wards in the Borough which are showing sharp rises. To meet increased demand from other factors the Council has agreed to expand Brandlehow Primary school also located in Thamesfield with two new reception classes for which planning was granted in June. The Children’s Services Department have been asked by Friends of Putney Common to provide information on why there is a sudden increase in demand in the published projections which show a need for up to 55 new places in 2017/18, despite the static birth rate. They will also need to adjust their capacity figures in the light of the two new reception classes at Brandlehow Primary.

Across Wandsworth as a whole, the birth rate has risen from 4,000 a year a decade ago to just under 6,000 a year in 2010. This upward trend is expected to continue for the next decade and new primary places will be necessary.

A proposal has been submitted to the Council by ‘Friends of Putney Common’ and ‘Save Elliott School’ to meet this demand. They suggest that a new primary school built on the Westleigh Lodge care home site which is owned by WBC adjacent to Elliott would be more suitable and also meet the demand from the wider borough. Both the Putney Hospital site and Elliott school are in the Council’s catchment area designated for a new school. Funds from the sale of the Putney Hospital site, which would be shared with the Wandsworth PCT, could substantially supplement funds from the Council’s reserves. The two groups have called on the Council to consider these options and to discuss them with residents.

The approval given by councillors last night must also be endorsed by London Mayor Boris Johnson before full planning consent exists. Sir Edward Lister, Deputy Mayor of London responsible for planning was previously Leader of Wandsworth Council. It is therefore hoped that he will be acutely conscious of the need to question the decision made on the 13th of September, and will take into consideration not only the suggestion that the new school should be built at Elliott but also consider that the planning approval will face judicial review if it goes ahead as planned.

Friends of Putney Common

September 23, 2012