Call For School Sites In Planning Consultation

Council criticised over hunt for sites

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Campaigners have criticised Merton Council for not stating it was including school sites on a consultation taking place over potential developments.

As part of Merton's core planning strategy, it is now encouraging landowners, developers and other interested parties to suggest sites that may have potential for redevelopment to an alternative use.

Responses to their "Call for Sites" initiative must be received by midnight on Friday September 9.

The initiative is asking for potential development sites available for use between 2011-2026 and suggests the following uses:

  • Housing;
  • Employment;
  • Retail;
  • Leisure;
  • Community uses;
  • Art, culture and tourism; and,
  • Mixed use development.

But local Liberal Democrats say the consultation should have specified schools, as there is a shortage of primary school places in Wimbledon.

Moves to find the necessary primary school places include the potential expansion of Dundonald Primary School, which has caused some controversy over extending it into neighbouring Dundonald Park.

The council-owned former Wimbledon House School (pictured above) in Merton Park is also now up for sale after plans to open a "Free School" on the site were turned down.

Local Lib Dem campaigner Diana Coman said: "The tragedy is that the Council has sold off lots of education land since 1999, ironically for housing. The first priority for any strategic planning document should be education.

"Greater consideration must be given to how any new housing will be supported by all local services. We need to bring balance back into local planning.

"We must protect existing school sites - not sell them off. Our good schools must be kept a good size - you can't just keep increasing existing schools forever. And perhaps most importantly we must plan for the future; we need to be thinking now about future developments - will we need even more primary schools, what about more secondary schools? We don't just need warm words - we need action."

But Councillor Peter Walker, cabinet member for education, said schools were covered by the search for sites for "commnity uses".

He said: " 'Community use' clearly covers our need for school sites as well as other uses such as day care centres. Let no-one be in any doubt I as Cabinet member for Education am determined to explore every possibility to ensure we have school places for all local children. These planning documents would be twice as long if we set out in detail all the community uses that we wish to acquire land for.

"It is sad to see that the Liberal Democrat Party are so confused that they don't understand plain English! For them to also condemn our selling off the site at Wimbledon House School site shows complete disregard for the facts. The council received a detailed report from external surveyors making clear that this site was not viable even for a one-form entry school."

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September 1, 2011