Affordable homes off the table as BSix ‘is forced to sell sports hall to free school instead of housing association’

Kevin Watson standing outside BSix where he has just taken over as principal. Picture: BSix

Kevin Watson standing outside BSix where he has just taken over as principal. Picture: BSix - Credit: bsix

BSix college has allegedly been “browbeaten” by the government into selling its sports hall to a free school instead of a housing association.

The centre in Kenninghall Road agreed to sell some of its estate to the Olive School in a governors meeting on April 5.

But the college had previously voted by a narrow margin to sell the freehold, which includes its sports hall and car park area, to the Peabody Trust on March 29.

In the first few days of April the DfE raised objections to public land being sold to a non-governmental or educational body, throwing the Peabody Trust deal into doubt.

A meeting was then called at 24 hours’ notice, where governors had to choose between potentially losing both deals or accepting the government’s offer.

It is claimed this tight time window led to a small vote in favour of selling the freehold to Olive School, via LocatED.

Peabody had originally outbid LocatED – a government-owned company acting on behalf of the Department of Education (DfE) – by offering £7.15million so it could build 47 new affordable homes on the site.

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Cllr Michael Desmond, who represents Hackney Downs and is a BSix governor, said: “To spend this much money on Olive while starving BSix of funding is contentious.

“Also, this area desperately needs more affordable housing.”

The minutes from the March 29 and April 5 meetings are currently protected by confidentiality rules. But Cllr Desmond, who objected at the time, said the DfE had bought the site for £5m – leaving BSix £2.15m worse off.

The DfE had been in discussions with the college for several months, but this was on the basis that it would rent rather than buy the site.

LocatED had previously given the college a deadline of April 5 by which to formally accept or reject the DfE’s offer.

In 2013 the DfE purchased Hackney police station, in Lower Clapton Road, for £7.3m, and gifted it to the Olive School.

But delays in gaining planning permission saw the school stay at a rented site in Cazenove Road, Stoke Newington.

Now the BSix site will be used by the Olive School while the old police station undergoes development. This latest acquisition means £11.3million of public money has gone to one free school. There has been no public announcement about the purchase.

There are just under 13,000 people on the housing waiting list for Hackney.

A Department for Education spokesperson said: “We want to provide good value for the taxpayer, which is why we launched LocatED to help ensure free school site purchases represent the best value option.”

Hackney MP Meg Hillier, who has criticised the government for overpaying for the police station site as chair of the Public Accounts Committee, told the Gazette: “Diane Abbott and I are working together to challenge the government about its approach to BSix.

“It is a fully comprehensive sixth form that has a vital role to play.”