Sites hit-list angers education chief

26th April 1996 at 01:00
An inner-city council's hitlist of 10 schools whose grounds could be sold off to property developers has angered heads and governors - and shocked its own education chairman.

Westminster, the Tory London borough which has become notorious for selling its cemeteries for pence, badly wants to raise money to keep its council tax the country's lowest. Its agents estimate that it could make more than Pounds 20m from "redeveloping" the sites of schools, nurseries, libraries, and leisure centres. Their suggestions include selling off part of a school site in fashionable St John's Wood which is already shared by a comprehensive and two primaries, and adding a third primary to the site so that its existing premises can be sold.

Another primary could be shifted to a former school now used as a sports centre, they say. A nursery in St John's Wood could be moved to a housing estate so that the house it occupies could be sold.

Selling part of the grounds of Hallfield junior, near Kensington Gardens, would fetch Pounds 4m, the agents estimate. The site has been earmarked by the governors for an extension to complete the school, whose buildings are Grade II listed.

The agents say that they realise that "convenience of child education " is a highly emotive issue, and that therefore any proposal will be "of a high-profile nature".

Jenny Bianco, Westminster's education chairman, said she had not realised that schools were on the list. It would be "absolutely foolhardy" to sell school land when there was such a shortage of play areas in inner London.

Mrs Bianco is confident she can persuade her colleagues to reject the report's recommendations.

But Karen Buck, a Labour councillor who is chair of governors of Wilberforce, the primary which the agents suggested could be moved into a sports centre, says: "I believe that Mrs Bianco will do everything she can, but the hard men who run Westminster will not be easy to thwart."

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