Is Gove’s department about to hand a school site worth £10 million to the private sector?

The Department for Education (DfE) has been accused of seeking to transfer a school site worth £10 million pounds to the private sector without compensating local authorities.

The Department for Education (DfE) has been accused of seeking to transfer a school site worth £10 million pounds to the private sector without compensating local authorities.

Ashmount Primary School in Islington is set to move moved to new premises in January, and has been looking to sell the former site to a local housing association since the move.

According to one of the school’s governors, however, the DfE’s Education Funding Agency has stepped in to block the sale, requisitioning the old school site to make way for a free school without compensating the council.

School governor David Barry claims that Islington Council could now be out of pocket to the tune of millions through what amounts to a net transfer of funds from the council to the private sector.

It had been thought that the site, worth around £10 million pounds, would be provided to a local housing association at the discounted rate of £3 million to build social housing. There are now concerns about Islington’s schools being short of money if the council is not compensation for the land on which the old school building sits.

Writing on his website, Barry says:

“First the capital account for Islington schools is now short by 3 million pounds. This was the, rather conservative figure, that Islington had assumed would be available from selling the site, at a special low price, to a housing association. It might well have been more. Consequently all Islington schools will experience a further cut in capital allocations.”

Joe Caluori, lead member for children and families on Islington council, told Left Foot Forward that he was “deeply concerned” about having a free school “imposed upon us”.

“This school is a divisive and unwelcome imposition, and moreover taking the site from us will have a huge impact on us and our housing plans.”

Left Foot Forward approached the DfE about whether they planned to compensate Islington Council for the requisitioning of Ashmount Primary School but they declined to comment.

————————————————————- Update

A Department for Education spokesperson has now told LFF that:

“We have identified the former site of Ashmount Primary as a possible site for an approved free school and we are in contact with Islington Council about its use. However, no decisions have been taken and discussions with the proposers, council and local community are still in the very early stages.

“As well as providing high quality school places, the free school will drive up standards and provide greater opportunity and choice for local parents and children.”

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11 Responses to “Is Gove’s department about to hand a school site worth £10 million to the private sector?”

  1. David Barry

    While the tone of your article is certainly supportive, I fear you have a crucial detail wrong.

    Ashmount School moved to its (very fine) new building in January 2013, – January this year.

    This left the old site, which belongs to Islington Council, vacant – and it is this vacant site which Mr Gove wishes to requisition and transfer to a for profit company. The loss of 3 million, at least, falls on Islington Council, not the school. In fact as the money raised by disposing of a school site can only be used for capital spending on schools, all Islington schools EXCEPT Ashmount loose out, as Ashmount being in a new building will not need capital for a while. Its the other schools suffer a loss of money that could have been spent on them. Ashmount’s move having happened months ago is unaffected. I suggest you amend your text…

    David Barry

  2. leftfootfwd

    Amended, David.

  3. Geraldine Mitchell

    Mr Barry I am confused by your comments, as you say that the old site belongs to Islington Council how can Mr Gove ‘requisition’ the site without paying for it? The old school and the site have been paid for and maintained by taxpayers until now . Or is this just another of the 1900 State schools, and the land on which they sit, which have been given away to private people/companies by this Government? Nearly 2000 of our schools are now owned by Tory Party members who were given them free. Mr Harris who is a personal friend of Mr Cameron got some millions of pounds worth, as did Stanley Fink who invested £2.62 million in the Tory party and as a shrewd ‘god of the hedge fund industry’ has done handsomely out of his investment via ‘Ark Schools’ : and as ‘Stanley Finks Ark Stockbrokers’ promise that any “underspends” from Ark schools will go to the Cayman Islands these State assets are well and truly ‘requisited’ from the taxpayers they belonged to now. To add insult to injury the taxpayers have also paid £481,750,000 on the legal fees which it has cost to transfer the title deeds on these schools. Gove borrowed this half a billion so taxpayers will also have to pay the interest on that. As I read about this when it was already a fait accompli , I would be very happy to see Islington Council making more than a fuss about what is happening in Islington; and if nothing else a threat to spend taxpayers money on exposing this blatant asset stripping of public property and land might be useful as means of getting Gove to pay a reduced rate of £3 million which will still save him millions , and this legalised looting can continue.

  4. blarg1987

    If there is strong enough evidence, surely this would fall under corruption of high office? Perhaps LFF should take this forward and seek legal advice, if there are a few legal challanges andf the media like a good news day to ruin a politician then it would be worth doing.

  5. David Barry

    Geraldine, I think this is a case where the truth is so barefaced that people find it difficult to credit. The old Ashmount School site had Ashmount School built on it by the London County Council, and it opened in 1957. I presume that the site was acquired before then using public money, of course by today’s standards and just after the war the price of the land would be trivial. It must then have passed, the ownership, to the ILEA and then been transferred to Islington when the ILEA was abolished, which was a little later than the GLC.

    Of course there is no problem with land transferring from one arm of Government to another without payment. When Islington decided that the only thing to do to solve the problems of the old building was to move the school, it was moved to another plot of land nearby also already owned by the Council. And land, incidentally, which due to planning restrictions could not be used for housing. ( In fact it could barely be used for a school, in the end it required special planning permission from Islington, then Liberal Democrat controlled, special permission for the Mayor of London, then, as now, Boris, and also from the Government, then Labour under Gordon Brown.)

    So the site is vacant. Islington council, now a recently elected Labour Administration, elected on a manifesto that included a commitment to build social housing, now owned a school site and building that the school has left. So it has to decide what to do with it. It decides to use it for social housing, which is a change of use away from education. Still with me?

    So they draw up a planning brief and consult the local population, revise it in some respects then submit it to a Government appointed, Independent, Planning Inspector who examines it in public and takes more evidence, hears objections etc. (be patient, I am getting there)

    The planning inspector reports a few weeks ago thus:-

    “Having carefully considered the question of educational need, I am satisfied that the Council’s evidence on this issue is robust and clearly demonstrates that the loss of this site for educational use will not undermine the future provision of school places either in Islington or in the adjacent London Borough of Haringey. Furthermore it is clear that refurbishment of the school buildings has been thoroughly investigated and has led to the conclusion that they cannot be easily adapted to meet modern educational standards. I conclude that the allocation is supported by robust evidence on the provision of educational accommodation.”

    The overall conclusion of the Inspector was that the allocation of the Ashmount site “for residential and community use, including open space” is “justified, consistent with national policy and effective…”

    BUT the inspector also wrote:

    “it (the site) remains for education use until permission has been granted for a change of use by the Secretary of State for Education.”

    So an application is made to Mr Gove, for a change of use. He refuses it, and uses recently acquired special powers to requisition it so that it may be used for a Free School.

    Now the bit that is iniquitous is not taking the land, without any compensation to Islington, it is that it is then GIVEN into private hands in the form of a for profit limited company that will run the Free School.

    So the capital account for Islington schools is now short by 3 million pounds. This was the, rather conservative figure, that Islington had assumed would be available from selling the site, at a special low price, to a housing association. It might well have been more. Consequently all Islington schools will experience a further cut in capital allocations. This is, in accounting terms, a straightforward transfer of capital resources from all the community schools in Islington to Bellevue Education Ltd.

  6. David Barry

    Could LFF ask when discussions with the local community will begin?

    There really have been none that I know of.

  7. Geraldine Mitchell

    So an Independent, Government appointed Planning Inspector agrees that there is no need for an abandoned school to be replaced, as the area has enough provision of school places. Said Inspector also approves the site for the building of much needed social housing. The council can make £3 million from the sale of the site, and the housing providers can save millions by using land not commercially priced.
    Gove instead decides to build a school which is not needed, and grabs the land for free from the council, to give away to a private company. So no one in the community is being served?
    Has this company also donated money to the Tory party? If a councillor were to behave in this way he would rightfully be arrested for corruption. Mr Barry the taking of Local Authority land without compensation is iniquitous; and if that land is going to be used by a private company for profitable gain, then the price of that land ought to be sold at the market price of land. Gove is behaving like some feudal Lord handing out public land like this. Please could you tell me a little more about his ‘recently aquired special powers’ to steal land like this.
    I’ll desist from pointing out Goves obvious arrested developmental problems and anyway they are no excuse. This is blatant theft of public land for a useless ideological enterprise aka ‘asset stripping’ of land and buildings which have been bought and maintained by taxpayers for the public good.

  8. Annie Powell

    It’s pretty ominous that the Dep for Education doesn’t deny the possibility of gifting the land to a private party.

  9. Susanna K

    I live in the area affected. The serious issue, unmentioned in this and other articles, is that with the removal of Ashmount School there are now no schools nearby for our children to go to. Of the seven children I know about this year in the area, none got into a school in the area and two received letters from Islington Council suggesting a solution might be for parents to home-school! If the council had made any provision for the children in the area given the loss of the local school — for example altering the catchment area of other nearby schools, or guaranteeing places for a couple of years at the new location of Ashmount School, then I might have more sympathy. But since the nearest school to offer a place to children in the area was two miles away I feel the council have been very cavalier. Their claim that there is no shortage of schools in the area is simply untrue — and they know it!

  10. archway

    I am baffled by this posting. The Islington Schools Forum, which is not a political body, gets regular reports on the admissions position. I happy to be on that body (a school governor elected by other governors) and the situation is so completely contrary to what Susanna says…

    There are no children without places in the area. The area divides into two parts, those to the East of the old ashmount site who are in the catchment for Coleridge School and Ashmount School, and those to the West who are in the catchment for Hargrave Park (which by the way is just over half a mile from the old Ashmount site.

    Also Islington admissions simply say they do not write letters advocating home schooling. After all there is no reason for them to do so anyway. If Susanna K knows this parents could she ask them to forward copies of the letters to me, C/0 Ashmount Primary School N8?, because if they exist and are not the products of hear say, I would very much like to see them so I can take the matter up with Islington admissions

    David Barry

  11. archway

    You asked to know about Mr Gove’s “recently acquired special powers”

    The powers are contained in the Education Act 2011, Clause 63. Clause 63 brings Schedule 14 of the Act into effect. Schedule 14 concerns local authority land. “It enables the Secretary of State to make a scheme to transfer an existing or former school’s land …. from a local authority to a person concerned with the running of an Academy where the land is no longer needed for the school” Quote from the explanatory memorandum. (in law “Free Schools” are examples of Academies)

    David Barry

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