The proposed UCL Academy in Swiss Cottage. Pupils are likely to have to wait until at least January 2013 before they can try out their new classrooms
Published: 27 September, 2012
by RICHARD OSLEY
THE opening of Camden’s first academy school has been put back again, leaving the council fuming at contractors working on the project and pupils facing another wait to see their classrooms for the first time.
The Town Hall said it had been hit by “broken promises” over the UCL Academy project and it would seek compensation to cover extra spending on emergency measures.
The new school, sponsored by the world-famous university in Bloomsbury rather than being controlled by the council, was meant to have been ready for the start of term – but the building project missed that deadline.
The delay was supposed to run only to the half-term break but the council said yesterday (Wednesday) that it will still not be ready then.
There is no exact date as to when it will be ready.
In a letter to parents, school principal Geraldine Davies said “in my view January 2013 is a likely date”, adding “my well of understanding is fast running dry”.
The opening of the new Swiss Cottage Special School on the site will also be delayed by at least another week.
BAM, the main contractor on the site at the top of Adelaide Road in Swiss Cottage, told the council on Monday that safety checks still had to be carried out.
While UCL has tried to put a brave face on the academy’s delayed start with claims that sixth-formers could benefit from being accommodated at its university, some younger students have been sent to temporary classrooms.
Due to the high-profile nature of the sponsor, the school was expected to be held up as a perfect example of the academy system of independently-run schools. But the project has been beset with controversy.
In the planning stages, parents and campaigners asked why the new school could not simply be run like other Camden secondaries – by an accountable management at the Town Hall.
Then followed a row as to why it was being built so close to Haverstock and Quintin Kynaston schools and not near the university’s headquarters in the south of the borough, where a shortage of places has been a long-term concern.
When the first delay was announced in July, Camden and BAM teamed up for a press statement to explain the hold-up. The reason given was the collapse of a sub-contractor. Yesterday, the council released a statement on its own beginning with the words “Camden Council has reacted with anger” to news of the delay.
Labour’s education chief Councillor Angela Mason said: “Camden has done everything possible to raise problems early and press for transparency about the delays. BAM has made promises at the highest level which have repeatedly been broken.
“The original building programme was ambitious, and we appreciate that the contractors were working to a challenging timetable. However, we feel the company has managed the delay badly by refusing to acknowledge and deal with the problems earlier on.”
She added: “The delay to Swiss Cottage special school is completely unacceptable for this very vulnerable group of children and also a wholly unnecessary situation.
“While officers questioned continually whether BAM’s programme was achievable, BAM would not confirm that dates would be missed in time to make suitable alternative arrangements. I’m angry that we have been so badly let down.”
The New Journal called BAM’s press department repeatedly yesterday and sent an email enquiry, without response.
The company has previously said it has kept the council well informed of problems, ultimately stemming from the loss of a sub-contractor.
It said earlier this month: “BAM’s priority is to hand over buildings which are properly ready for occupation, and fully safe for pupils, parents and staff. We are working intensively to do this.
“At its own cost, BAM has had to re-employ workers, buy out materials and bring in additional resources and has worked around the clock to offset the effects.
“BAM has kept Camden Council fully informed about this issue throughout as we have encountered the problems left by losing such an important sub-contractor at a key stage, and communicated with the council at the highest level.
“We deeply regret the unavoidable impact this will have for a few weeks for local people and their children.”