‘Lidl’ problem over where Richmond free school can go as favoured site snapped up by supermarket

A proposed new free school in Richmond Park may highlight the ideological divisions between candidates but they are all united in their disapproval over where the building should go after their favoured site was bought by Lidl.

While the candidates agree that the proposed Deer Park School site is not ideal, they disagree as to whether the school and free schools more generally are the best way to meet the rising demand for school places in Richmond.

Protesters against the plans focus their criticisms on the inappropriate site location at London House on the A316, which raises concerns over air quality, accessibility, traffic, and suitability of play areas.

Zac Goldsmith, Conservative candidate for Richmond Park, said that the area had an excellent track record for meeting demand for more school places.

He said: “Richmond has some of the best schools in the country and has been proactive in meeting growing demand.

“In the past five years, 500 permanent reception places have been added and hugely popular sixth forms are being rolled out across the borough.

“I’m proud of the record of the Conservative Council.”

He agreed that the proposed site for Deer Park School was not ideal, but expressed doubt that there were any better alternatives.

He also said he would press the Education Funding Agency to pursue other viable site options if any were found.

He said: “I see my role as facilitating a discussion with the community through public meetings, and that is what I am doing.”

Deer Park School is the initiative of Bellevue Place Education Trust (BPET), and would be one of 500 new free schools opening by 2020 under a Conservative government.

Deer Park School would be the third in a series of proposed free schools in the area, intended to tackle a lack of school places to meet a growing demand.

Liberal Democrat candidate Robin Meltzer explained that there had been a trade in the coalition government which saw the Conservative party push ahead with free schools, while the Liberal Democrats secured ‘Pupil Premium’ funding for disadvantaged schools and students.

Mr. Meltzer said: “It has led to real problems in Tory boroughs like Richmond which have enthusiastically embraced the free school agenda and used it as a sort of alternative to planning for proper provision of school spaces.

“It’s like they are just sitting around and waiting for free schools to pop up.”

He criticised the example of Deer Park School particularly for its location on a busy polluted road away from any green space.

“How can this possibly be what Richmond envisaged for our young people?”

Labour’s candidate, Sachin Patel, also expressed doubts that London House would be an appropriate site for the proposed school.

He said: “Labour’s plans for schools will be based around local people’s real needs.”

Green Party candidate Andrée Frieze met with Deer Park School protesters earlier this year.

Ms. Frieze highlighted a site problems for Kingston Community School, run by The Chapel Street Trust, and the plans for Richmond Bridge Primary school, which stalled when Lidl bought the proposed site.

She said: “What is the point of giving a free school the go-ahead if there is no building for it?”

Both Deer Park School and Kingston Community School will initially run out of temporary sites.

Ms. Frieze added: “Councils have a duty to provide enough school places for children in their borough, but are not allowed to open a new school where and when one is needed, nor can they buy or lease a necessary building.”

The UKIP candidate for Richmond Park, Sam Naz, didn’t respond to requests by SWL for comment.

Her website states: “UKIP supports the principle of Free Schools that are open to the whole community and uphold British values.”

The BPET board behind Deer Park School has acknowledged the concerns over the site location.

At a meeting on Friday March 20, board director Tom Legge admitted that the preferred site was in fact Ryde House, originally planned for Richmond Bridge Primary School before it was bought by Lidl.

He claimed that the Education Funding Agency are in negotiations with Lidl, and hopes to open Deer Park School at Ryde House, rather than London House, in September 2016.

 Picture courtesy of Pete, with thanks

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