Controversial schools plan put on hold

Education trust boss hits out at council over delay to scheme, reports Geoff Ellis

Lea Bridge Depot

The entrance to the Lea Bridge Depot site in Lea Bridge Road where two new academy schools are proposed (credit Karl Weiss)

Plans for two new schools to be built in Lea Bridge Road have been halted by the government after campaign groups and Waltham Forest Council opposed them.

The Department for Education (DfE) postponed the scheme for both a primary and secondary academy school last month because of the “perceived planning risk”.

Barclay Secondary School, backed by Lion Education Trust, and Athena Primary School, to be run by REAch2 Academy Trust, had been planned to be built on the former Thames Water depot site opposite Lee Valley Ice Centre, which is designated as Metropolitan Open Land.

Both schools had expected to open this year, but cannot now do so until September 2018 at the earliest. Had their plans gone ahead, the schools would have welcomed their first pupils to classes in temporary buildings while construction work was completed.

In a letter to parents who had selected Barclay as their child’s first-choice secondary school for the next academic year, Lion Education Trust chief executive Justin James criticised Waltham Forest Council for opposing the school. He said: “The project has been deferred because of concerns around planning not being achieved in time on the site – a complex process of managing multiple requirements and technical issues, which DfE and their teams have worked very hard to resolve.

Schools plan for Lea Bridge Depot

Current designs for the two schools in Lea Bridge Road, proposed by Lion Academy Trust and REAch2 Academy Trust

“There are however some who oppose the opening of the new school on the site that was secured, on the basis of this being classified Metropolitan Open Land and are thus seeking to delay the opening of the school. We have also encountered some rather unwelcome views from local politicians and officers at the council, which have been unhelpful and have made the chances of opening successfully in September 2017 less likely.

“With this in mind, we would never want to place your child’s secondary education at risk – and are thus reluctantly forced to accept this decision.”

The news of the delay to the school plans comes after the Echo reported the significant opposition from the council. Councillor Grace Williams, cabinet member for children and young people, questioned whether the Lion Academy Trust was the right provider and said the proposed school would be “in the wrong place”.

Campaigners from Save Lea Marshes and a new group called Leyton Marsh #OurLand say the delay doesn’t mean any of the planning issues surrounding the schools will go away. “The location, on Lea Bridge Road, is already a traffic bottleneck,” campaigner Claire Weiss told the Echo.

“The proposed schools are a long way from where young people who need school places live. How will 2,000 pupils and staff get to and from the site?”

As Metropolitan Open Land the former Thames Water depot is protected from development except in ‘extraordinary circumstances’. It was bought from Thames Water by a government agency in 2015 for the purpose of building new schools.

,