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Belsize Park parents’ final plea for free school falls on deaf ears

PUBLISHED: 16:08 05 October 2011

A campaigner urges residents to back proposals for a parent run free school in Belsize Park

A campaigner urges residents to back proposals for a parent run free school in Belsize Park

Linda Grove

Parents fighting for a Belsize Park free school have accused Camden Council of placing “ideology” over the needs of parents after it approved the sale of two buildings earmarked for the school.

Parents fighting for a Belsize Park free school have accused Camden Council of placing “ideology” over the needs of parents after it approved the sale of two buildings earmarked for the school.

Campaigners failed to halt the sale of two hostels in Fitzjohn’s Avenue and Maresfield Gardens at a last ditch emergency meeting at the town hall.

Hitting out at the decision, determined residents pledged to take their fight to the UK’s highest courts.

“They have ignored all the rational arguments we made and they are cutting off their nose despite their face,” said Christina McKenzie, one of the parents campaigning for the school.

“I think it is ideological.

“They would prefer not to open up a brand new school. From a parents point of view that is revolting.”

The group of parents have applied to the Department for Education for funding to set up a secular free school, and expect to hear if their proposal has been accepted within a fortnight.

They had argued the school was necessary because there is a stark lack of primary places at secular state schools, and claim to have more than 100 parents who have expressed an interest in sending their child there.

Residents associations had warned that Fitzjohn’s Avenue is already choked with traffic during the school run however, and had urged campaigners to consider other sites.

Fellow campaigner Harriet Nowell Smith restated the group’s threat of court action against the council.

She said: “We are considering legal proceedings to ask for a judicial review.

“We haven’t lost yet.”

Jill Barnes said the decision added “another obstacle” to the campaign.

“The impact on parents is that they will have to continue to pay, pray or move to be able to get a school place in Belsize Park.”

Outlining the council’s opposition to any delay in selling the buildings, Cllr Theo Blackwell, Camden Council’s finance chief, warned that it would send the “wrong message” to the market.

He added: “I think it is extremely important that the council is considered in its decisions and its posture to the market.

“I don’t want the value of these properties to diminish.”

Money raised from the sales will be ploughed into funding repairs to council homes across Camden.


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