Plans to build a secondary school on land deemed by the Mayor of London as one of the 50 most polluted sites in the capital have been approved by Merton Council.
The planned site for the new 1,100-pupil Harris Academy Wimbledon School is adjacent to the 350-pupil Merton Abbey Primary School and has caused disquiet among Labour and Conservative councillors.
Confirmation of the plans on November 15 came a day after medical journal The Lancet published a study which found pollution from diesel vehicles in London was stunting the growth of children’s lungs, leaving them damaged for life.
Deputy leader of Merton Conservative Group and its environment spokesman Daniel Holden said: “The council have not put in enough safeguards. Elsewhere in London we hear of school playgrounds being ‘off-limits’ because of busy polluting roads outside the fence.
“Merton Council should listen to these local campaigners and either build the new school elsewhere or put in proper, effective solutions to reduce air pollution.”
Labour’s Peter Walker, a former Cabinet Member for Schools for Merton between 2010-2012, said: “The decision is a crime against the future health of children in Merton.
“This development is not only in a pollution hotspot, but it also envisages putting over 1,100 teenage pupils in a five storey building with virtually no open play space and unable to open the windows due to the air pollution levels outside.”
According to Mr Walker, the site was also described this year by Merton Council as the place where pollution levels are amongst the highest in the borough.
A temporary site for the new school was opened in September 2018, and the proposed new site which has invited controversy is set to open in 2020.
Executive leader of Merton Council Councillor Stephen Alambritis said: “We have been working closely with the Department for Education and the Harris Federation for a number of years to bring forward the much-needed Harris Academy Wimbledon School, which aims to create much-needed school places.
“We take air quality concerns seriously, considering air quality against national and local policies and require adequate mitigations to be put in place where air quality has been questioned.”
In May 2018, a report on behalf of the Mayor of London Sadiq Khan identified the site as one of the most polluted in London and warned air pollution will worsen due to the planned redevelopment of the High Path Estate in Wimbledon nearby the proposed school.
Professor Chris Griffiths of Queen Mary University of London, who led the research reported in The Lancet, said: “We are raising a generation of children with stunted lung capacity.”
In a soon-to-be issued letter, Abbey Ward Conservative Councillor Nigel Benbow blamed the local Labour Party for the decision. He wrote: “I was staggered to observe the planning committee meeting on Thursday 15th November, where the six Labour councillors voted for a new secondary school in the High Path Estate in South Wimbledon, despite vocal and well-founded concerns from residents and myself as ward councillor.”
He continued: “Why did Merton Labour not listen?”
Mr Benbow listed bad air quality, a lack of clean outdoor space, not enough safe walking and cycling space on the main routes to the school, and the neighbouring estate’s 15 year redevelopment plan as detrimental to the health of the school’s potential pupils.