West Hampstead free school campaigners slam council for selling off ‘ideal’ location

The team of NW6 free school campaigners

The team of NW6 free school campaigners - Credit: Archant

The leader of a campaign for a free school in West Hampstead has hit out at the council for selling off the “perfect” location for a secondary school.

Camden Council says the building in West End Lane, which currently houses builders merchant Travis Perkins, costs £5,000 a week to maintain and is being sold to raise money for the cash-strapped town hall.

But Dr Clare Craig, co-founder of the NW6 School Campaign, is worried that the council is selling it without extensive public consultation.

She said: “One of the biggest concerns is that it is being sold off in quite a rush.

“I think a lot of people in West Hampstead are still unaware of what is about to happen.”

She argued that the site, near three railway stations, would be ideal for a new Camden secondary school.

“People have been saying for many years that it ought to be where the school is set up,” she said.

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“It’s big enough, it’s by the railway stations and you wouldn’t need to spend much on the building.

“I understand the council needs the money, but they are not thinking about what the community needs.

“If you look at a map of schools in the area, you can see there’s a gap in the middle of it where West Hampstead is.”

The leader of Camden Liberal Democrats has also attacked the council for spending “a fortune” on the disused office building, which is due to be sold off in the coming weeks.

Cllr Keith Moffitt said: “This building is sitting empty and Camden Council are spending a major amount of money on it.

“It’s crying out for temporary use, pop-up office space or bulge classes for a school, as we need more space for primary schools.

“It seems criminal to have a valuable building next to three stations lie empty. For a school, it’s very easy to get to – it’s on a bus route, there are Tube stations and it’s in the middle of the West Hampstead area.

“I really feel very strongly that this is outrageous.”

The deadline for bids to buy the five-storey building is today.

Travis Perkins occupies the ground floor, but the offices above have been empty since Camden Council moved its staff to another site earlier this year.

A brochure produced for potential bidders describes the building as an opportunity for developers to convert the office space into housing.

Cllr Theo Blackwell, Camden Council’s cabinet for finance, said funds raised would go towards the council’s capital programme.

He added: “While the building is empty, the council is meeting the costs of the business rates, security and associated running costs, for example electricity.

“The council will not divert funds from school repairs for a school here.

“An extra school would have to demonstrate real need, rather than preference, otherwise it would destabilise existing schools and school governors have very strong views about this.”