Author: Cyril Richert
Below is the letter I addressed to the planning application department.
Planning Application 2010/4235 – Bolingbroke site
29th October 2010
We are writing in response to the application 2010/4235 for the alteration, extension and part demolition of the former hospital to provide 50 residential flats and space for some health facilities.
Some comments on the consultation responses
On the Council’s website, 421 objections have been received, compared with 2 people supporting the idea of luxury residential units in the area. Although the number of objections could be related to the successful campaign to make the site a school, those who bothered to show their interest to the council and raise their concern should be actually praised for their participation.
APPLETON is labelled wrongly as support but this is an objection.
Only WILSON and RUSSEL-FISHER are truly supportive messages. However I was surprised (puzzled to say the least) by the argument made by one of the supporters that there is a “blatant attempt to manipulate the planning process in favour of those who would impose their somewhat absurd and ill-conceived proposition on a community that is comprised of far wider population than the self-interested short-sighted group that is promoting the “free-school” concept“.
The facts are that a lot of young parents have to move away from Clapham Junction area and Northcote where their children were attending primary schools for a simple reason: as it was demonstrated by the Neighbourhood School Campaign (NSC), there is a lack of secondary schools. The current situation often leaves the parents with no other choice but to move away.
A wide support for a secondary school, including from St George Trust itself!
As often highlighted in documents published over the past 2 years making the case for a secondary school for the area, 2,000 parents have signed the NSC’s petition supporting the creation of a new school in the Northcote ward, idea supported by the Martin Linton and Jane Ellison (former and current Battersea MPs) and the ward Councillors.
According to David Canzini (a member of that team in charge of processing the application for St George’s Healthcare Trust) “the residential application does not preclude or prejudice other uses for the site, such as a school. The Trust and project team have been proactively engaged with Wandsworth Council (LBW), Partnership for Schools and the Neighbourhood School Campaign over the issue of a secondary school on the site“.
The reason behind the application
The Primary Care Trust (PCT) and SGT claim that although the Trust and project team have been proactively engaged with Wandsworth Council (LBW), Partnership for Schools and the NSC over the issue of a secondary school on the site, unfortunately to date, no financial offer has been made to buy the site within the timescale that is vital to the Trust. As they are looking to raise money to enhance services in St Georges Hospital (Tooting), they need the sale to be completed within the financial year (31 March 2011). Therefore they have put forward a plan to transform the Bolingbroke buildings into high standard residential, in order to maximise the value of the site.
David Canzini said that although Wandsworth Council made a proposal to buy the site, they have not shown any financial commitment and therefore the Trust faces the obligation to provide a plan B, should the funding promised by the Council not be existent/sufficient.
On the other side, the Council denies such claim and distributed a leaflet claiming that information in the consultation document is misleading and asked for this to be corrected.
However, on Tuesday 21st September 2010, the Education and Children’s Services Overview and Scrutiny Committee confirmed the argument made by St George Trust: the Council would acquire the site on the basis that the costs of any Priority Purchase would be met in full by the government. Priority purchase would be undertaken on the basis that the Council would acquire the site for educational purposes and the site would continue to be used for the public benefit. Any Priority Purchase by the Council would need to be met from government grant which is currently unconfirmed, as noted by the Director of Finance.
In the aim to maximize the price of the site and to establish its market value, St George’s Trust (SGT) and the Wandsworth Primary Care Trust (PCT) have put forward a plan to transform the Bolingbroke buildings into high standard residential flats. Their purpose is to provide the Council with the best value of the site, while maintaining their obligation to provide a plan B should the public authority be unable to provide funding.
Objections to the application
There are a large number of issues that should prevent the planning approval such as the prime necessity to keep the building as a public site (which would be achieved with the school) and the obligation to liaise with the Council to achieve the best public usage of the site.
As highlighted by Northcote ward Councillors, the following specific issues will need to be addressed:
- The protection of the important features that led to the Bolingbroke being designated last year as a Grade 2 listed building; in particular the preservation of the nursery rhyme tiles
- The proposed conversion of the listed building to mainly residential flats will require major intervention and subdivision of the building’s interior
- The loss of significant and long established public facilities if the building is redeveloped for mainly residential flats rather than for other community usage
Beside all this debate, you may consider that the Bolingbroke site was acquired, through public subscription and charitable gifts, by John Erskine Clarke at the end of the 19th century, whose aim was to provide public health service for the residents of Battersea. It would be a shame to see the memory of the great man to be betrayed 120 years later and the site to be sold to private interests on profit consideration only.
In addition, considering that:
- the sole purpose of the current application to provide residential flats is to raise money within the timescale that is vital to the Trust to enhance services in St Georges Hospital (Tooting);
- it is acknowledged by all parties (including St George Trust itself) that the site could be used for a secondary school, providing that the government/the council is meeting the cost to acquire the site;
- the need for a secondary school in the area has been demonstrated;
- the Bolingbroke site is a public facility and considering any other use will be a considerable loss for the community
the application should be refused.
On behalf of the Clapham Junction Action Group
 Email received on Friday 3 September from David B. Canzini
 Report by the Director Children’s Services on a proposal by ARK Academies with the Neighbourhood Schools Campaign (NSC) to establish a Free School on the Bolingbroke Hospital site, comment 16 page 4.
The criticism of the current school campaign
Albeit objecting to any attempt to prevent the Bolingbroke site to remain as a public facility and potentially developed as a much needed school in the area of Clapham Junction, we are aware that part of the campaign to choose a secondary school can be criticised.
On Tuesday May 4th, the Evening Standard reported that five education groups have been in contact with the Wandsworth campaign so far. Two are education charities that sponsor state-funded city academies in London, Ark and the Harris Federation. The three others are private and overseas school firms — Sweden’s International English Schools, WCL and Cognita.
We understand that in May 2010, the NSC chose ARK Academies to set up and operate the new school. It would have been interesting to have a public explanation on the choice and the possibility to compare openly the different competitors, but it seems that the decision was taken behind closed doors.
Although there is a record of achievement from ARK to achieve good results in deprived area (mainly focusing on Maths and English), it would be interesting to know the arguments behind the rejection of Harris, Cognita, or any other organisation which responded to the bid for running a Free School.
Last but not least, the Council should share a responsibility in the current situation by misleading the public on the real financial stakes.