Monday 27 January 2014

Saving William Gladstone Open Space for all of us

I am opposed to free schools and academies and so is the Green Party. The Liberal Democrats have gone along with free schools and academies in the Coalition and Sarah Teather changed her position from opposition to support when she became a minister. On that and much else I am passionately opposed to them.

However Liberal Democrat councillor Alision Hopkins has been vociferous in her opposition to the Gladstone Free School being built on the William Gladstone Open Space next to Gladstone Park and I think her reasons deserve a wider circulation.

Here is Alison's Guest Blog which is what she would have said at tonight's meeting. 

I’m really sorry I can’t be at the meeting tonight. I’ve a family funeral in Southampton which clashes.

For me, this is a very personal issue. I grew up at the Gladstone Park end of Dollis Hill Avenue, and played in the park and on the open space as a child. I know it well, and I know its history and value to our community.

Let’s be clear, first of all, about the kind of green space that’s threatened. This land has never been built on. Centuries ago it was part of Lower Oxgate Farm, later, market gardens and then allotments. It is now Metropolitan Open Land, which is the equivalent of Green Belt in London. It is protected by law.

Let’s also be clear that this is not about the school per se, it’s about the proposed location.

Gladstone School has claimed that they wish to build on the site of the old William Gladstone School. That site – where the school buildings once stood – is now houses and flats. The school wish to build on William Gladstone Open Space, which is its proper name, NOT Gladstone Playing Fields. And, for the sake of clarity, it’s in Dollis Hill, not Willesden as has repeatedly been stated.

The William Gladstone Open Space is precisely that. Open, green land that belongs to ALL of us. The school have also claimed the space is disused and run down. Their own press release refers to it as a “near abandoned “space! Perhaps they should tell that to the rugby players, the dog walkers, joggers, commuters and all the other people who use it. Perhaps they should also tell that to the people who simply love looking and enjoying one of London’s precious and all too few green lungs.

Gladstone Park isn’t merely “nearby” as the school claim. It’s part of the space they want, and any road from Parkside to the school would have to go through Gladstone Park itself. The importance of Gladstone Park and the William Gladstone Open Space cannot be overstated.

The school also claims that Brent Council considered building on the Open Space in 2005. That’s being economical with the truth, to say the least. In 2005, Brent looked at every piece of land they owned to identify a site for a second City Academy at Wembley. The William Gladstone Open Space came last on the list and was rejected out of hand as totally unsuitable. Nothing has changed since them.

I was contacted by the school in August last year and I, with another fellow councillor met them in September. I made it clear then that I thought any idea of building on the open space was utterly wrong, would be fiercely resisted and that other options were available. Indeed, I suggested several to them, including other Brent owned properties.

Residents then started to approach me, to express their fears for what is the heart of our community. They are the ones – as it should be with any grass roots campaign! – who are leading this and who have pushed this campaign along. They’re the ones who’ve spent every evening and all weekends knocking on doors. They’re the ones who’ve set up Facebook pages.

Kilburn Cosmos, our terrific local rugby team, would be devastated if these plans went ahead. It would mean the loss of one of their essential rugby pitches. And, by the way, over a quarter of a million pounds was spent on that pitch very recently. When Cosmos applied to build a tiny club house on the Open Space, they were turned down almost instantly by Brent Council.

William Gladstone school was closed due to failing rolls in the early 1990s. This was in part because of poor transport links and also because of the nature of our Dollis Hill feeder schools. Nothing has changed since then.

There are three local primary schools in Dollis Hill. One is Orthodox Jewish, one Catholic and the only non-faith school, Braintcroft is directly across the road from Crest Academy.  Crest is having £40 million spent on it and will be using brand new buildings from September.  Gladstone School tells me that they only approached Braintcroft to assess their interest last week! Neither Our Lady of Grace nor the Jewish school will act as a feeder school to Gladstone. It’s also very unlikely that Braintcroft would, as they feed to Crest and to schools in Wembley. What that means is that the pupils attending Gladstone would be unlikely to be local children who could or would walk to Gladstone School. Again, the 2005 Brent Council report clearly stated this.

The small primary school at the bottom of Parkside does cause some issues with traffic and parking at the beginning and end of the school day, as pupils travel from a distance. That school is, however a very good neighbour indeed and works hard to alleviate the difficulties. However, as part of their own small planning application, further double yellow lines will be put on Parkside.

The proposed site has no access roads. Parkside and Oxleys Road are both cul de sacs. Extending Parkside would mean encroaching into the park, and extending Oxleys Road would mean  traffic, including construction traffic driving directly through a quiet residential housing estate.

The Open Space is not served by tubes or busses. When Brent assessed the land in  2005, it scored the lowest possible mark for transport using the PTAL rating, which measures non car accessibility in general. That study also said that the railway line bordering the site made it difficult for primary schools in the south of the borough to get to the Open Space. , Those are the schools that  Gladstone School has canvassed and where any  interest seems to lie. There are no direct bus routes.  The  226 serves the south side of the park and is infrequent, requiring changing to other bus routes to reach most of south Brent. The 232 on Dollis Hill Lane is also infrequent and serves the St Raphael’s  Estate  and Brent Cross.  There’s a railway line, but that’s a goods and freight service, which also happens to carry waste as well as fuel to Heathrow Airport.

The school also claims they were asked by Brent Council not to campaign for the site and thus stir up local feeling. I find that hard to credit and have asked for confirmation from Brent officers. They also claim to have consulted widely: surely those claims are contradictory?

The school is now petitioning for Brent Council to consult on the proposed school. It actually isn’t down to Brent Council, for once, to consult with residents about the school and its location. That can’t happen until a formal planning application is sent to the council. It’s up to the school to talk to local people, and that’s been sadly lacking. I’m a local resident. I wasn’t contacted. I know that Braintcroft, for example, were only contacted last week. I’ve also been told that Gladstone School has been contacting schools outside Dollis Hill for two years.

As I said at the outset, this isn’t about the existence of the school, this is about proposals to use a location which is not only utterly unsuitable for the school, but deeply damaging to our community. I’ve rarely seen such a depth of anger and disquiet here. We love our green space and want it left for us and succeeding generations. Once it’s gone, it’s gone forever.


Anonymous said...

So she'd support a free school with all it's undemocratic and unaccountable features as long as it's not in her back yard. With friends like these....

Anonymous said...

On the other hand, any ship in a storm ..............

Anonymous said...

..........make that 'port' .

Anonymous said...

I think that this guest blog by Alison Hopkins sets out a clear and well reasoned case, with supporting evidence, why Gladstone Free School, or any other development, should not be built on this particular site. I am convinced by it, and support her view.
I hope that whoever makes a decision on this matter will take proper note of such good reasoning, although, unfortunately, that does not always happen in Brent!
Philip Grant

Anonymous said...

The statements made for this proposals are totally misleading and they have not contacted local residents in any form.

And to claim it on the site of the old William Gladstone school is false as this was sold and flats developed on it.

Disgraceful behaviour. And it feels like a land grab from under the local people's noses. I now of NO local people that support the building of a school on this land which has no public transport connections.

Fill the brand new crest academy before you go ripping up our parks.