Parents are outraged by a London borough's plans to close seven schools, reports Jon Slater
PARENTS are fighting plans to close seven primaries which they fear will be sold off for "yuppie flats" in Lambeth, south London.
Parents believe they are paying the price of the Labour-controlled council's past mistakes. The result, they say, will be bigger classes.
Three primaries have already been sold in the past four years, raising pound;6 million for Lambeth. Two of them, Ashby Mill and Santley, are being converted into blocks of luxury one-bedroom flats to go on the market next year.
Property developers stand to make even larger profits from the sales. If planning permission is granted, Ashby Mill alone will be turned into 49 one-bedroom flats, priced from around pound;120,000 - netting developers pound;6m from just one property.
Labour came to power in May determined to break with the past and shake off Lambeth's tag as one of London's rottenest boroughs. However, plans to close a further seven primary schools in an attempt to reduce a huge number of surplus places have led to charges that the council is selling its assets on the cheap in the hunt for quick cash.
"Everyone is working under the assumption they will be turned into flats," said Peter Truesdale, a Liberal Democrat councillor.
Julie Hall, secretary of the Save Our Schools campaign and a parent of two children at King's Acre, said: "Parents are furious at the proposals. Our schools are full - they have waiting lists. We see this as part of a wider plan to increase class sizes."
Ty Goddard, chair of education in Lambeth since May, was exasperated by the claims. "It is a totally different situation (to the previous closures). Lambeth is moving out of its legacy. This is a genuine attempt to drive up quality," he said.
Under council rules, properties are sold off to the highest bidder. Mr Goddard pledged that revenue savings would be ploughed back into education in Lambeth but gave no guarantee on how the cash from the sale of schools would be spent, fuelling speculation that it would be used to pay off Lambeth's debt - which stands at around pound;825m. He said he had no estimate of how much the sale would raise.
According to official figures, Lambeth has 2,500 surplus primary places. At 16 per cent of all primary places this is one of the highest totals in Britain. And they are not spread evenly throughout the borough - Clapham has lots of "empty desks", but there is a shortage of places in Streatham. The reorganisation - drawn up by an all-party taskforce - includes the building of two new schools.
Mr Goddard said: "We have buried our head in the sand for far too long. We are letting down every Lambeth child if we let this waste go on."