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Friday, 8 February, 2002, 12:06 GMT
Mayor blocks state school in the park
Plans to build a new 10m "city academy" state school in a deprived area of London have been blocked by the city's mayor, Ken Livingstone.

The Corporation of London, which was putting 2m towards the school for 1,500 pupils, had applied for planning permission to build on Paterson Park in Bermondsey.


The academy would be an enormous boost for the area, providing a centre of excellence and desperately-needed secondary school places

Judith Mayhew, Corporation of London
But Mr Livingstone said the school should not be at the expense of another public amenity and said it could set a "dangerous precedent".

"Paterson Park is the only public green space in the area. The park should be improved for local people, not taken away from them," he said.

"This was not an easy decision to make but ultimately I believe the children of Southwark will be best served by having both a school and a park in their community."

He offered to help Southwark Council look for another site.

Appeal

The corporation described the mayor's decision as "incomprehensible" and said it planned to appeal.

Judith Mayhew, chairman of the corporation's policy and resources committee, said they were bitterly disappointed and surprised by the news.

"The academy would be an enormous boost for the area, providing a centre of excellence and desperately-needed secondary school places, with the opportunity for pupils to specialise in business and enterprise and then go on and find employment," said Ms Mayhew.

Local people would also be able to use the school's facilities, including an all-weather football pitch and six tennis courts.

"We cannot understand why the mayor has chosen to block such a beneficial development."

Legal action

Southwark Council leader Stephanie Elsy said it was considering legal action against Mr Livingstone.

"We are appalled at the Mayor's behaviour on this and are looking with our partners at all legal avenues open to us.

"If necessary we will take legal action to bypass Ken's decision because we must get on with building this badly needed school.

"We urgently need these places for children in Bermondsey," she said.

'Disappointed'

A Department for Education spokeswoman said the government was surprised and disappointed by the mayor's decision, especially as the borough needed new school places for children transferring to secondary school in the next few years.

"We will be exploring options with Southwark and the Corporation and still hope to reach a solution," the spokeswoman said.

City academies are publicly funded independent secondary schools - receiving up to 10m of capital investment - with up to 20% of private and voluntary sponsorship.

The aim is to raise a educational achievement in inner cities by giving these schools greater freedom than is available to those in the maintained sector - for example, to depart from the national curriculum.

See also:

18 Jan 02 | Education
Church group to run state school
12 Oct 00 | Education
Church backs latest 'city academy'
15 Mar 00 | Correspondents
City academy, US-style
15 Mar 00 | Education
Anger at scheme for failing schools
15 Mar 00 | Education
Ex-superhead backs academies
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