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Free school accuses Brent Liberal Democrats of trying to stop them opening in Willesden

PUBLISHED: 14:28 21 January 2014 | UPDATED: 14:01 22 January 2014

Lib Dems have started a petition against the school

Lib Dems have started a petition against the school

Archant

The founders of a free school have accused political activist of trying to prevent them from opening on a site in Willesden.

Paul Phillips is the principal of Gladstone SchoolPaul Phillips is the principal of Gladstone School

Gladstone School, which has been established by a group of local parents, have earmarked the grounds of the old William Gladstone School near Gladstone Park as their potential base.

But the Brent Council owned site is Metropolitan Open Land and has same level of protection as the Metropolitan Green Belt in terms of development.

Gladstone claim they may have fallen foul of electioneering as Liberal Democrats activists are asking residents to sign a petition they have drawn up against their plans.

Paul Phillips, Gladstone’s principal, said: “We are really distressed to hear Brent Lib Dems are promoting this petition.

The land is protected from some types of developmentsThe land is protected from some types of developments

“Brent Council gave an initial no to our proposal to re-use part of the site, requesting that we seek alternatives before coming back to them. We took that on board and have been conducting exhaustive searches and commercial negotiations on other premises.

“Parents tell us they would be pleased to see a new school where the old school used to be, and that it will improve a near-abandoned bit of land.

“It won’t affect the fabulous acres of beautiful open space we all treasure in nearby Gladstone Park – indeed would probably enhance it, adding a wealth of leisure activities and resources for the local community, as well as a much-needed new school.”

The site was given protection from inappropriate development in 1992 which means any proposal for a replacement school must meet very strict criteria.

The Gladstone School (blue) plans to sit on the playing fields (grey). Gladstone Park is in Green 
The Gladstone School (blue) plans to sit on the playing fields (grey). Gladstone Park is in Green

“We are confident we do meet the criteria, including the request that we conduct a thorough search for alternative sites first,” Mr Phillips said.

“While of course we will keep searching, we need to start making decisions. We need an open discussion with Brent and local residents to ensure we fully satisfy all the other criteria and can recreate the old school but for the 21st century.”

The school has launched a public consultation about their plans and will be holding a meeting for residents next Monday.

Maria Evans, Gladstone’s vice chair of governors and a local mother, said: “We just wanted to create something different for our children and our local community: a small, safe, yet ambitious school where children can enjoy, and make the most of, their school years.”

Cllr Alison Hopkins, Lib Dem councillor for Dollis Hill, said: “We cannot support building on Metropolitan Open Land. Once green space has gone it is gone for ever.”

“We welcome Gladstone Free School’s commitment to consultation. Given the proposed school seeks pupils spread across Brent and Barnet we encourage it to continue to look at previously developed land, which may mean widening the area of search.”

The meeting will take place at The Crown Hotel in Cricklewood Broadway, Cricklewood, on Monday 27th January from 6pm – 8pm.


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