Brent Lea Decision to Return to Cabinet
Metropolitan Open Land should be protected rather than lost
Wednesday evening saw the Overview and Scrutiny Committee gather together in Hounslow Council Chamber to discuss the Free School Arrangements for Floreat Free School made on 16th June by the Cabinet.
Councillor Tony Louki (Osterley) led this call-in with the support of 12 councillors (including 2 Conservative councillors).
The Committee has the power after the discussion to either do nothing, refer the decision back to Cabinet or refer it to the Council if the decision actually fell outside the scope of Cabinet. This was not the case and by quarter past ten the committee unanimously decided to refer the decision back to Cabinet.
Many councillors face similar problems in their own wards of schools potentially being built on Metropolitan Open Land (MOL), such as the current application for Nishkam School on the Conquest Club, land that the EFA have already purchased.
Cllr Louki said that he appreciates the need for school places but is worred that green places once lost never return and that the use of Brent Lea should not set a precedent for use of green land across Hounslow.
Cllr Steve Curran, Leader of the Council (Syon) committed in writing to the following:
- to revoke the 16 June Cabinet decision relating to the 125 year lease when Cabinet meets next Tuesday and to delay any further consideration of a long term lease or sale of any land to Floreat until planning permission has been given for a permanent building;
- to agree that a full report on all possible options for a permanent site for the Floreat school will be brought to the Overview and Scrutiny Committee in the autumn for discussion;
- to agree that a full report on the use of Metropolitan Open Land in the borough will also be brought to the Overview and Scrutiny Committee in September.
Heather Cheesbrough, Assistant Director of Regeneration, Economic Development and Environment, answered many technical questions about the process of site assessment. Sites are scored, based on PTAL (access), type, planning risks, condition, flood zone, site use and ownership (see Appendix B for the criteria). One of the reasons MOL comes out highly is that it is 'deliverable' as a potential site for education, taking ownership and current use of sites into consideration. Compulsory Purchasing does not fit in with the Free School time frame as it takes at least two years to process.
Several alternative sites were mentioned: land south of the high street, Acton Lodge, Gunnersbury Park (small mansion), St George's Centre. Floreat originally intended to use Commerce Road, back in 2012 but TfL was reluctant to move the bus garage, a necessary pre-cursor to any school on site. It took the support of Sir Edward Lister, Deputy Mayor of London (Conservative) to help persuade TfL to plan a move to an alternative. The proposed site is on Capital Interchange Way but will be at least 3 years off, with no planning application submitted.
Cllr Curran said that on reflection he wished the temporary and permanent leases hadn't been tied together in the Cabinet report. Heather added that the EFA, the Education Funding Agency require agreed Heads of Terms for a permanent site before they go ahead with a temporary lease.
The special circumstances, which are required to justify the use of MOL, was clarified as the need to provide school places, which everybody acknowledges to be under extreme pressure.
Cllr Hughes asked for an overview of other free schools that were being discussed. She also asked where children would go if Floreat couldn't open in September. David Brockie, Senior Education Advisor, explained they were looking at numbers and alternatives which would no doubt be spread amongst different schools although they try to ensure sufficient places are available, especially for primary places, in the same local area. He also clarified that the EFA were reluctant to lengthen the temporary use of a school site beyond two years as the school grows in size each year and would no longer fit.
The archaeological dig is expected to start on July 20th. As the site has never been built on and is in close proximity to Syon Abbey and a Roman road there could be much to examine.
Suzie Betlem spoke on behalf of the Save Our Rec campaign, outlying the many concerns residents have about loss of green space for children and dog walkers, parking, traffic and the time restraints. She also suggested that the £60,000 valuation and peppercorn rent amounted to £10 a week over 125 year lease and offered to pay £11 a week as a better offer. Suzie also raised the public perception of politicians, that many residents didn't feel listened to and this whole process really didn't help improve matters. Syon Park is not equivalent as it's not all free and much that is free is by the roadside so dogs can't run free and there is no play area for children.
Heather reiterated that 40 free parking spaces in surrounding roads have been located although they couldn't be identified. Highways officers are satisfied with vehicular access on site.
The question of the covenant was raised. It might be possible for the council to break the covenant but just because it could did that mean it should? Cllr Todd asked whether the Duke of Northumberland would receive any benefit in exchange for agreeing to the change of land use. Cllr Curran agreed that it was very unfortunate but there would be compensation.
All Councillors on the committee said there needed to be a proper public consultation about the loss of MOL, that it should be protected rather than lost.
Cllr John Chatt ably chaired the meeting and was thanked by Cllr Curran who said he was very grateful to have had the debate. Cllr Louki in turn thanked Clr Curran for his candour.
So the decision will be referred back to Cabinet with Cllr Louki's 11 points listed in the call in and 4 areas requiring further clarification the minutes of the meeting for further discussion.
Brentford is in need of extra primary and secondary places, and existing schools have had extra classes added where possible.
Find the planning application by visiting planning search (agreeing T&Cs, and then selecting "search planning applications") and then entering 00707/AK/P1 in the box marked Planning number.
There was a public meeting on 28th May to discuss the temporary application.
Letters from Brentford Community Council to LBH on this issue.
The temporary application was approved at Planning Committee on 4th June (see both item 4 and the addendum report item 11). Cllr Elizabeth Hughes stated that she would have voted against it had the application been for a permanent building.
The agenda, decisions and minutes from Cabinet meeting on 16th June, where the recommendations were unanimously approved.
The agenda, decisions and minutes from Overview and Scrutiny Committee on 15th July where the decision to send it back to Cabinet for review was unanimously approved. There will be a formal wording of the decision to come that is legally appropriate. The meeting was live-tweeted (scroll down).
The sequential assessment of school sites can be downloaded (scroll down to the Education heading).
July 17, 2015