Plans to sell industrial land on Anchor and Hope Lane for a new primary school were approved by Greenwich councillors last night – but the borough’s archives will not be affected by the move, they were told.
The Anchorage Point industrial estate is to be sold to a government agency so it can be used as a school by the Harris academy trust. Councils are not allowed to set up new schools of their own so have to go along with government plans for academies.
Greenwich council’s cabinet last night heard opposition from an Anchorage Point business owner and a local councillor, but voted through the plans after hearing that not selling the land could saddle the council with a £30-40 million bill to build a new school elsewhere.
Plans submitted to the cabinet appeared to show that the borough archive – which moved out of its old base in Woolwich three years ago to make way for the Woolwich Works creative district – would also have to move. But Jeremy Smalley, the council’s assistant director of regeneration and property, said that the trust would be able to stay, although its site may eventually be needed for a new road.
“The Royal Greenwich Heritage Trust are unaffected by this decision,” he said. “They would be affected in the longer term should we find the money to implement the road improvement, and the discussion with the trust is about what and where they need to be not just in terms of the archive, but in exhibition and research space.”
The plans will see existing businesses relocated to new sites, but Richard Cunningham, the owner of Morgan Richards Garage, which is based on the industrial estate, said his business had already been forced to move from Woolwich to Brocklebank Road in Charlton, then to Anchorage Point when Brocklebank Road was sold for use as a retail park.
“Each time, it’s involved great personal expense and great effort to keep a customer base we value,” he said, adding that Anchorage Point offered good facilities and was full of long-term tenants.
Moving the businesses “would result in a definite loss of jobs during the worst trading period due to the Covid-19 pandemic”, he added, suggesting a site further along the riverside would be better for a school.
“The site is essential for a lot of businesses, close to the Blackwall Tunnel, M25 and A2,” he said.
Woolwich Riverside councillor John Fahy said the plan to sell the site was “in direct contradiction” with the council’s aims to keep the Charlton riverside as a location for employment.
“This particular school will be in the middle of a building site with all the health impacts that will bring,” he said, adding that the school would come too early for housing on Charlton Riverside and Morris Walk, with the risk that it would be already full when the new residents moved in.
Local resident Helen Brown said the plans “came as a shock” and that the businesses only found out just before Christmas.
“Economic development and jobs are really important to the council, and that’s one of the reasons that’s a really difficult decision,” Smalley said.
“If the council doesn’t accept the offer, then the council will have to find a site for a school, and will be left with a bill of £30-40 million to find the land and build a new school – and under the law it has to transfer it to an academy.”
Addressing Cunningham, he said: “We’re going to do our damnedest to relocate you close to where you are now, in purpose-built units. We won’t necessarily be able to do that to everybody, but we really want to and we’ve been clear about the need to work with business and find alternative premises.”
“The DfE and [its agency] Located are putting the council under pressure to make this decision, otherwise the money will be withdrawn by March, and the council will then be left with having to find £30 million – £40 million to make the school provision a reality.
Sarah Merrill, the cabinet member for regeneration, said the council was committed to a “holistic regeneration” on the riverside rather than “allowing piecemeal developments ad hoc”, and said she had met residents on site last month.
“We are working with the community and [resisdents’ group] Charlton Together at every single stage,” she said.
The new school could open as early as summer 2022 – before any housing on the riverside is complete, and Matt Morrow, the cabinet member for children’s services Matt Morrow said it was important to get the facility in place early so new residents did not have to send their children long distances to school.
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