Published by CNJ: 01 August, 2013
by RICHARD OSLEY
Camden will move ahead with plans to turn workshops and studios in Wren Street, Holborn, into a new secondary school sponsored by the Institute of Education.
But as the celebrations began, private tenants in the workshops warned again that the council will be turning its back on small businesses, which will be forced to move.
There were questions as to why Camden had not been able to strike a deal for a new school on the larger Mount Pleasant Royal Mail site, a short walk from Wren Street.
The Town Hall cabinet – the cabal of 10 senior councillors who have the final say on council policy – approved the school plan last Wednesday night.
Polly Shields, one of the leading voices in the eight-year Where Is My School Campaign?, which called for a new secondary somewhere south of Euston Road, told the meeting: “It’s fantastic and almost unbelievable.
“Since the news of this broke in the Camden New Journal people have been coming up to us in the street to tell us how excited they are, to congratulate the campaign and to tell us they want to join in and for their children to enrol.”
She said more than 80 per cent of children in that part of the borough currently went to a secondary school outside Camden, adding: “This will finally allow the diverse children of our community to be educated together. This is a historic opportunity.”
The plan is to sell the council-owned land to the government, which would then pass it to the IoE to run as a school where teachers are trained. Part of the deal will be financed by selling a section of the site for private housing.
Camden is under fire, however, from businesses based at the workshops. In a deputation to the meeting, Simon Moore, who runs a glass-blowing company on the site, said the cabinet meeting was the “first face-to-face conversation” the council was having with businesses, all of which are facing a costly upheaval.
“You can hardly watch the news or read a newspaper without hearing how we should improve our manufacturing output, improving apprenticeships,” he said.
“All of this is something that Wren Street offers. We’ve survived the rigours of the downturn, imagine what we could do when things improve. Wren Street should be such an asset to the council.”
Businesses in Wren Street want the council to put the brakes on the scheme so that alternative arrangements can be made, making it easier to move when firms are forced to go. They questioned why the new school could not be built at nearby Mount Pleasant.
Councillors pledged to help the companies but remain fully committed to the new school. Pressure for a new secondary south of Euston Road dates back more than three decades, although it was intensified eight years ago with a spirited parents’ campaign.
Campaigners found the site after councillors and council officials insisted there was no land available in the neighbourhood for a new secondary. Ms Shields said: “I had a six-month-old baby when this started. She’s eight now.”
Planning official Ed Watson said the Mount Pleasant site was not an option because the cost of buying a share of the land was “way beyond the means” of the council, whereas it already owned Wren Street.
Camden education chief Councillor Angela Mason said: “This does feel like a historic moment.”