School is in the wrong place

Tan Parsons

VITAL places at a new primary school planned for West Hampstead could go to children from Brent and would leave dozens of people out of work.

Revealed in Camden Council’s Budget announcement this week, the new school on the Liddell Road Industrial Estate has been presented as a panacea for the severe lack of primary school places in the north west of the borough and would replace plans to expand St Paul’s primary, Primrose Hill, which were opposed by some parents and governors.

However, because of catchment rules many children from areas such as Belsize and Hampstead would find it hard or impossible to attend the �10million school, which will have two forms of entry, and some places would instead go to children from neighbouring borough Brent.

Last year the extra demand for places was met in part by the temporary Courthope Education Centre in South End Green, while other children had to travel farther afield for their education.

Dr Liz Taylor from the Camden parents working group said: “I cannot understand why Camden Council is planning to spend up to �10million to open a school in the wrong location and four years later than is needed. It is too far away and too late.”

Members of the group are working on an alternative plan for a free school at a pair of Camden-owned hostels in Fitzjohn’s Avenue and Maresfield Gardens that are due to be sold off. Liberal Democrat councillor Tom Simon is backing this idea.

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He said: “Sadly Camden’s plan will do nothing to help with shortage of places.”

Former schools boss, Conservative councillor Andrew Mennear, said: “This school will be of more benefit to families in Brent than in Belsize Park. This is the easiest option for the council but it’s not the best option.”

Council workers considered 20 possible sites for the school before settling on the Liddell Road industrial estate. It covers an area just larger than 10km square and is home to businesses in the 33 light industrial units there. If these companies were removed to make way for the school it would deplete Camden Council’s General Fund by �450,000 a year.

Branko Viric’s business West Hampstead Motors Ltd has built up a loyal base of customers over 10 years on the estate where it occupies five units and employs 15 people. When he spoke to the Ham&High on Tuesday it was the first he had heard of the primary school plan. He said: “We employ 15 people and that’s 15 families in serious trouble if we get closed down. Where would we go? I would lose the bulk of my customers.”

Sam Thomasson, who runs stonework company Fieldmount (Terrazzo) Ltd, said: “If we have to move we will find somewhere else but we would lose our association with this area. We’ve been around here since 1983.”

A spokeswoman for Camden Council said: “The council has been considering a number of site options for a new primary school and the Liddell Road site appears to be an appropriately sized site owned by the council. These proposals are at a very early stage and no decisions have yet been made.”

Camden Council’s Cabinet will consider the proposal at its meeting on December 1.

If members decide to ask for further investigation into the feasibility of the site, a consultation with tenants will begin and a report go back to Cabinet. If the school is built, it could open in 2014.