Fortismere School: Council housing could be key part of controversial £35.9m deal with town hall
PUBLISHED: 17:28 09 January 2019 | UPDATED: 13:36 15 January 2019
The £35.9million set aside in Haringey Council's budget for work at Fortismere School in Muswell Hill will include building council housing next to the school site if it goes ahead, the Ham&High can reveal.
The cash has been a point of contention within the cabinet, with both former members Cllr Zena Brabazon and Cllr Peray Ahmet citing it in their dissatisfaction with the administration after being sacked last week.
At the time, Cllr Brabazon said: “I suspect it’s to do with my opposition to putting money into Fortismere School.” Cllr Ahmet also referred to her scepticism over the plans, she talked of her “opposition to policies such as at Fortismere”.
In an email to colleagues, Cllr Brabazon said the figure had been added to the budget “at the last minute” and exposes the council to financial risk.
“I believe the project may be undeliverable and that council should not be involved,” she said.
The Ham&High understands the proposals being discussed between the council and the school include Haringey buying a plot of land next to the foundation secondary school, in Tetherdown, to build council housing on. In return, Fortismere will use the money to overhaul dilapidated parts of their school site.
It isn’t known how much of any development would be council housing, but it’s believed it will be part of any final proposal. The £35.9m is budgeted to be spent over the next five years.
Haringey made building its own council housing a key part of its 2018 election manifesto, after former leader Claire Kober stood down due to the unpopularity of the Haringey Development Vehicle (HDV).
At Fortismere’s last full Ofsted inspection in 2011, it received an outstanding rating. Leader of the council Joseph Ejiofor (Lab) was a governor at the school from June 2016 until May last year, when he became council leader.
Plans for work at the school site have been in the pipeline for a few years. Its website still features a version of the 2015 site improvement plan to overhaul it.
The project was rekindled in May, when co-headteachers Jo Davey and Zoey Judge, and chair of governors Mark Chapman, sent a letter to parents and neighbours outlining their renewed ambitions. They said the school wanted to replace its “dilapidated sixth form” and create a new canteen. Library and special educational needs facilities would also be improved.
The letter said the school and council were looking at a “combined, cost-neutral project” to build a new block for the school and housing on the surplus land.
It described the current facilities as “cramped, smelly and dank” and said the building was “literally falling apart”, with maintenance costing tens of thousands of pounds a year.
“Certainly it is not the type of facility that people would expect at a school such as Fortismere,” they said. “Doing nothing is not an option for us.” The letter said the work would cost up to £20million.
Speaking to the Ham&High, Ms Davey and Ms Judge said there had been no progress since the letter was sent out in May.
“Our facilities need replacing. We’re not looking to expand, just to replace the 19th century buildings on part of our site,” said Ms Judge.
A public meeting followed the letter, with the plans getting a warm reception according to the co-headteachers. Ms Davey said: “There was less nervousness than we anticipated. People got that the buildings were bad, and they were sympathetic to the ideas around housing.”
Aside from a reference in the budget, there are no details on Haringey Council’s website.
Activist and former Highgate Lib Dem councillor Clive Carter said: “The main feature of this is the lack of information about it.
“There has been the possibility of new council housing come up before, and it hasn’t come off.”
Cllr Noah Tucker, cabinet member for corporate services and insourcing, said: “This proposal was initially raised in 2015 and remains at an early, exploratory stage, with no firm decision having yet been taken. It would aim to be a self-funding partnership to replace existing school facilities and deliver new homes, including council homes.
“If, following our feasibility study, the council decides to support the project, there will be a number of steps to take before this proposal can progress, including a cabinet decision on the project.
“I want to be clear that we will only consider a proposal that is value for money for the council, fits in with our plans for the wider Haringey school estate, and is one that will genuinely provide social benefit for the community.”