A Wimbledon shopping centre car park could make way for a new primary school in a move that could herald a shift in Merton Council’s schools policy and open the door to more academies.
Just one week after the council insisted there were no plans to build a new school, we can reveal the car park, in Queen’s Road, next to Centre Court shopping centre, is actively being considered for redevelopment.
A new academy school would be funded directly from the Government and not Merton Council, but controversially would potentially be able to attract corporate sponsors, seen by critics as privatisation of education through the back door.
Recent legislation means any new schools would take the form of a city academy or free school, but any new school – which would be the borough’s first academy primary school – would undermine the stance of the previous cabinet member for education, Councillor Peter Walker, who said it would be too expensive.
Earlier this year, council leader Stephen Alambritis said: “Let me be clear – we don’t want free schools in this borough and will only support academies where an existing school is failing.”
But this week, Coun Walker’s replacement, Councillor Martin Whelton, confirmed “all options are on the table”, despite saying last week “there were no new plans at this time to build a new school”.
Coun Whelton said: “We are looking at a range of different options given that we have got projected increase in demand for schools in the next few years.
“We have commissioned a further study to look at further possible sites for new schools. That report comes back in September and it will be for the cabinet to look at it then.
“There are no firm plans for any new school at the moment. But it would be remiss of the council not to look at further options going forward. Then we can have a constructive debate.
“It is obviously a council-owned site, but there is a whole range of options we would need to consider, such as design constraints and so on.”
It is understood the prospect of building a new school in Queen’s Road was discussed at a cabinet meeting at the Civic Centre on Monday, July 2.
It is also believed the council was in the process of tabling an offer to buy back part of Singlegate Primary School in Colliers Wood, which a previous administration sold off more than a decade ago.
The Jamia College, currently used as a seminary for trainee imams by the Ahmadiyya Muslim Association, is being marketed for £2.5m but it is believed the council is willing to pay up to £3m and use the site for a much bigger Singlegate.
Councillor Oonagh Moulton, Merton Conservatives’ shadow education spokeswoman, said in principle her group would support plans for a new school in Wimbledon.
She said: “Our policy has always been that there is a clear need for a new school and it seems to be quite fudged as to what their current policy is.
“Councillor Walker stated very clearly they would not build a new school and, if Councillor Whelton is going to start they might, then that’s a change in policy and he should be clear with residents about that.”
Graham Cluer, who represents Merton for teaching union NASUWT, said: “We would urge the council to think very carefully about which organisation sponsors the academy because some are much better at working with local authorities than others.”