Published: 12 August, 2010
by RICHARD OSLEY
EDUCATION Secretary Michael Gove has ended weeks of uncertainty and suspense by declaring that the UCL Academy planned for Swiss Cottage will go ahead.
He has spared the flagship project from a barrage of cuts to the national education budget.
Mr Gove made his announcement that school sponsors UCL (University College London) had been hoping for on Friday, just a day after councillors had granted planning permission for the new school.
Now, after four years of debate and discussion, all UCL needs to do is get the school in Adelaide Road built.
Mr Gove has also spared improvements to South Camden Community School in Somers Town and the rebuilding of Swiss Cottage Special School from his hacking back of Labour’s Building Schools for the Future investment programme.
He said: “I know how hard councils and schools have worked on these projects and I have been anxious to ensure we can do everything we can, in difficult economic times, to support the crucial work of raising educational standards. We will also work with councils, sponsors and the construction industry to ensure we bear down on costs and bureaucracy so every new school is built in as cost-effective and efficient a way as possible, and I am delighted that they have already responded so positively to this challenge.”
But as celebrations began, Labour members warned against triumphalism and said the cheers would not drown out anger over £170million worth of cuts sustained by Camden schools since the Conservative and Liberal Democrat coalition government was formed.
Holborn and St Pancras MP Frank Dobson said: “Obviously I am delighted that South Camden is going ahead, but these pleasing developments do not mask the cuts to Camden’s other schools.
“Maria Fidelis, also in Somers Town, needs a complete rebuild, and, if you go to Parliament Hill, William Ellis and Camden School for Girls, you will see the need for repairs.”
The project has developed into a long-running saga with arguments about whether Camden Council followed the right course when it appointed UCL as the school’s sponsors without holding an open competition. Challenges were rejected by the High Court.
There has also been controversy over whether the new school – so close in location to Quintin Kynaston and Haverstock secondaries – was in the right place in the first place.
A vocal campaign in the south of the borough said it should have been placed near UCL’s own campus to help stranded families without anywhere to send their children.
UCL remained undeterred. The university said on Friday: “UCL is delighted to receive confirmation that the UCL Academy project will proceed on the Swiss Cottage site in Camden.
“We have put an enormous amount of effort and development time into our proposals, and very much look forward to continuing to work with Camden Council and with BAM [contractors] to deliver an outstanding school.
“We are still working to an opening date of 2011 and will make more information available to parents on our website in the next few weeks.”
Liberal Democrats see the developments as the chance to tick off another manifesto promise made when they won more seats than any other party in the 2006 council elections.
The party promised to deliver a new school – and only to use outside sponsorship if it could attract a top academic institution.
UCL is seen as the perfect answer to opponents of the academy system, which allows schools to operate beyond local authority control.
Liberal Democrat leader Councillor Keith Moffitt said: “One of the problems with Labour’s BSF programme was the bureaucracy it was wrapped up in. In the same time it has taken to get to this stage we have managed to do a complete refurbishment of Prince of Wales Baths.
“With the academy, we haven’t laid a brick because of the way the Labour government operated. A new school in the north-west of Camden, with a respected partner like UCL, was one of the first priorities of the Liberal Democrats when we were elected four years ago.
“The previous Labour administration had simply ignored the shocking fact that fewer than half of Camden’s children get a place in Camden secondary schools – and many in Camden’s Labour Party did everything they could to stop the new academy going ahead.”
Conservative leader Councillor Andrew Mennear said: “It is absolutely wonderful news because we have demonstrated that there is a need for more places.
“There have been ideological differences about academies but people have seen that UCL is prepared to work with Camden’s family of secondary schools. It wants to work with us. We wouldn’t have agreed for them to be the sponsors if they hadn’t.”
Camden’s education chief Labour councillor Heather Johnson said: “I am very relieved that we will now be to go ahead with these three key projects. However, this is just one-third of the programme we had planned. Many other schools that deserved to benefit have lost out.”