Labour claim location of new UCL Academy school was swayed by Tory general election strategy
Published: 25 April, 2013 Camden New Journal
by RICHARD OSLEY
THE new UCL Academy was placed in Swiss Cottage by Conservative councillors in the hope that opening a high-achieving new secondary school would win them key parliamentary votes, Labour councillors have claimed.
In a bitter row over schooling in the borough, Camden’s Labour group publicly accused the Tories at last Monday’s full council meeting of choosing the location for the school with election votes in mind. The accusation has been hinted at many times but has never been made so explicitly and openly before.
The Conservatives, who helped get the oversubscribed UCL Academy school in Adelaide Road up and running while junior partners in a power-sharing pact with the Lib Dems for four years up until Labour’s return to power in 2010, have flatly denied a secret strategy was in place.
The issue boiled over after the Tories questioned the Labour regime over the campaign to open a secondary school south of the Euston Road. During the old Lib Dem/ Conservative coalition, council-owned lock-ups in Wren Street were designated as a site for a new secondary school. Labour has now earmarked the land for sale.
Council leader Sarah Hayward, who last month attended the opening of the UCL Academy, the borough’s only academy school, told Tory critics at last Monday’s meeting: “We have done a significant amount of work on a school south of the Euston Road. We haven’t fleshed it all out in public because there are a lot of details to work out, but we are making significant progress.
“Ask anyone in the campaign for a new school for more than a decade whether we have been working hard to open a new school south of the Euston Road and the overwhelming answer will be yes, compared with what your administration did in four years, which was to ignore the existence of the Wren Street site to place a school in Hampstead and Kilburn to try and fight out the parliamentary seat.”
The claim is that the issue took on a political dimension because the Conservatives had high hopes of unseating Labour MP Glenda Jackson in the 2010 general election and felt a new school would be a perfect tonic for the campaign.
Holborn ward Labour councillor Awale Olad said: “Our school is in your ward, which you guys cynically took up to your part of the world to try and get some votes from it. And what happened: you still lost. Glenda Jackson is still the MP.”
A council decision proven to have been taken primarily for electoral gain could potentially be open to challenge in the courts.
Conservative group leader Councillor Andrew Mennear, who was Camden’s schools chief during the coalition years, said his group had always campaigned for two schools – one in the north and one in the south, backing up their pledge with the designation of the Wren Street land.
He said: “We respect the fact the Labour cabinet has tried to find a site south of the Euston Road, but those plans have not come off. At the same time it is earmarking Wren Street site for disposal, which previously all members of the council earmarked to keep.”
Cllr Mennear added: “I take strong issue for the council to say that it has made significant progress on delivering a school south of the Euston Road.
Government changes have made it easier to look at smaller sites, to allow people to set up free schools, and allow more hope for young people to have schools closer to the community they live [in].”