Community centre under threat as council split over school places


Increasing demand for primary school places is reviving plans to build a new school in North Wimbledon.


David Churchill

Increasing demand for primary school places is reviving plans to build a new school in North Wimbledon.
A new school on Gap Road represents just one of three options debated by Merton Council officials at a meeting on Wednesday.
Disagreements arose when cheaper options favoured by leading officers were revealed – including transforming South Wimbledon Community Centre into a school.
The option includes expanding Merton’s top achieving schools by creating extra classrooms.
It was met with protest from opposition councillors despite costing at least £2million less than a Gap Road development.
Councillor Krystal Miller said: “You can imagine my shock when I opened up my council envelope to discover the community centre, where I am a trustee, was under consideration as a new school.”
She added: “The centre represents both community cohesion and intergenerational activity at its best.
“I don’t believe in taking away one community facility to provide another. Our children need a youth and community centre and a new school.
“Taking away the community centre feels like robbing Peter to pay Paul.”
The centre is the best used in Merton with 50 regular user groups representing 600 people using facilities on a weekly basis.
Chair of trustees, Andy Coles, said the strength of the centre was its ability to cater for vulnerable and disadvantaged minorities in the community.
He cited elderly people who can be referred by GPs, Asian Tamils, mums with toddlers and young people from low income backgrounds as examples of beneficiaries.
“If the community centre was taken away it would leave a big gap,” he said.
Further objections arose when it was revealed Liberty Primary School would be expanded under the cheaper option.
The school was served with a “notice to improve” in the last OFSTED inspection which some councillors said contradicted the policy of expanding Merton’s top achieving schools.
Tackling the increase in demand for places was described by Councillor David Pearce, the meeting’s chair, as an urgent, major strategic challenge for the council.
Borough-wide birth rates have risen by 30 percent since 2004 already forcing six schools to provide extra classes over the last two years.
Expansion poses financial and logistical problems for existing schools as the law stipulates class sizes must not exceed 30.
The council will make their final decision on December 6.

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