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Hackney Council’s high-rise plans kick off game of ‘musical chairs’ – with school buildings

PUBLISHED: 12:20 07 July 2016 | UPDATED: 12:20 07 July 2016

An artist's impression of what the school in Tiger Way  will look like

An artist's impression of what the school in Tiger Way will look like

Archant

Emma Bartholomew takes a look at Hackney Council’s ambitious long-term plan to meet demand for school places in the borough – which has riled some parents because of the way it could be funded.

An artist's impression of what the school in Tiger Way will look likeAn artist's impression of what the school in Tiger Way will look like

As many as seven schools could be swapping places in a bizarre game of “musical chairs” set into motion after two tower block schemes were signed off by Hackney Council’s planning committee last week.

Parents have hit out at the plans, which will see flats built directly on top of schools to help fund their construction.

In Tiger Way, Downsview School – which is currently lying empty – is set to be demolished to make way for a two-storey, two-form entry primary school for 430 pupils.

Above will be 89 homes in a tower block ranging from four to 14 storeys – seven storeys higher than the tallest nearby buildings.

An artist's impression of what the school in Nile Street will look likeAn artist's impression of what the school in Nile Street will look like

Meanwhile in Hoxton a 29-storey block in Nile Street will cater for 150 pupils excluded from mainstream education in the New Regents College pupil referral unit, underneath 171 homes.

No affordable housing is proposed on either site, and neither provide a third three-bed units as recommended in the council’s own Local Plan.

The two applications are part of a wider plan for education in the borough, so the council can meet demand for extra school places by 2020.

Benthal and Nightingale Schools will be demolished and rebuilt elsewhere as part of the complicated proposals.

Whitmores new playground opened earlier this year  shortly before parents had been told one of the proposed secondaries could force its demolitionWhitmores new playground opened earlier this year  shortly before parents had been told one of the proposed secondaries could force its demolition

The council is adamant that its “creative and ambitious approach” is the only way to address the urgent need for an extra six forms of entry at primary school (or 1,260 places, equivalent to three new schools) as well as 11 forms of entry at secondary school (or 1,650 places, equivalent to two new schools).

The council says its hands are tied and it is necessary to sell homes to fund the plans, because of a massive £40m shortfall in its Building Schools for the Future (BSF) programme after the government pulled the funding.

A plan to house Benthal pupils in temporary accommodation for three years in the interim was dropped by the council after outcry from parents.

Katharine Stout said although there was sympathy for the need for additional schools, it was “inappropriate” to use commercial development to fund education.

Up to seven schools could play musical chairs in the councils long-term plan, shown in an early versionPicture: Hackney CouncilUp to seven schools could play musical chairs in the councils long-term plan, shown in an early versionPicture: Hackney Council

“What has been frustrating is that there has never been a clear explanation for why the only possible solution for this need is the proposed plan,” she said.

“Many feel the proposal will produce compromised primary school buildings and have a detrimental effect on pupils’ access to outdoor space.

“While there is currently absolutely no information about what a new Benthal School would be like, it would be sited on a much reduced footprint and therefore inevitably inferior provision, especially for outdoor space, in comparison to its current facilities.”

Anne Soward believes the plans could “prove disastrous in the long term”.

“It’s also essentially stealing land from the educational portfolio that belongs to our children and which can’t ever be returned,” she added.

But the council’s education boss Cllr Antoinette Bramble vowed: “By acting as the developer, the council will be able to ensure the maximum amount of money is available to deliver these priorities as it eliminates the need for a private developer to factor in profits for itself and any shareholders.

“Funding cannot be found in existing budgets so, by building homes for private sale, we plan to provide a significant sum for affordable housing and go some way to covering the cost of delivering the high quality schools our residents have come to expect and our pupils deserve.”

Nightingale pupils will move into the Downsview building, which should be completed by 2018. Pupils from Benthal will then move to a new build on Nightingale School’s site in 2020.

Pending consultation, pupils for future schools could be housed in Portakabins in Haggerston Park.

The council is investigating whether the City can build a new secondary on the site of Britannia Leisure Centre or Whitmore Primary in Hoxton.

Pupils would be housed in Haggerston Park for two years. Those awaiting the building of a new secondary school would be taught in the same place from 2019 before moving to the site where Benthal now stands in 2022.

The BSF programme has seen every secondary and special school in Hackney rebuilt or refurbished.

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