Westminster education service left homeless

Adult service in jeopardy after new free school takes its premises

The Capital’s largest local authority adult education service is facing a crisis after its main site in Paddington was handed over to a new free school.

Last month the Wood&Vale reported that Westminster Adult Education Service’s (WAES) building on Amberley Road was to be used by the new ARK Atwood Primary Academy from 2013.

Building work will start on the premises from this September to bring it up to standard for the new school, but the council has failed to find a replacement home for WAES, putting its ability to cater for its 12,000 students in jeopardy.

A new council report states: “If the building work on the new school is going to start during the 2011/12 academic year it will be important to move WAES into its new premises in time for service delivery from September 2011.

“The service is currently planning its programme for next year but will not be able to advertise courses without knowing where these courses will be delivered. The prospectus should go to the printers in late April.”

The report says WAES has been “in a position of uncertainty” with its property since it was planned to develop a new main centre on Moxon Street car park in 2008.

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The scheme, which was supported by a �9.2million contribution from the Learning and Skills Council, took Westminster Council longer than anticipated resulting in the withdrawal of funding and a decision that the scheme was no longer financially viable.

Furthermore, the report adds that the council is proposing to charge WAES market rent of �25-30 per square foot for any council buildings occupied – a move that would see WAES “unable to maintain its current operation”.

Cllr Paul Dimoldenberg, leader of Westminster Labour group, said: “If this fiasco isn’t sorted out very quickly then not only will the education service be in a very difficult situation, but thousands of Westminster residents who use the service will not know where their courses will be held in September.

“After bungling the proposed scheme for the Moxon Street site and losing the �9.2million government grant, the Conservatives have now handed the WAES site in Amberley Road over to the new free school without finding a replacement home for WAES.”

Cllr Brian Connell, cabinet member for business, enterprise and skills said the long-term aim is to house WAES on the Amberley Road site alongside the primary school but it will have to find a temporary premises while work is carried out.

“In Westminster we are facing an increased demand for additional primary school places in the north of the city and as such we have agreed in principle that our site on Amberley Road is the most appropriate long-term location for the new ARK primary academy,” he said.

“However, this is subject to the council working with Westminster Adult Education Service to find suitable accommodation to ensure our residents continue to have access to vital adult education and skills provision.

“This short-term move will enable us to build a more modern site on Amberley Road to ensure Westminster has an adult education site that is fit for purpose well into the next decade and beyond.”