EXCLUSIVE: DfE to claim £400k refund for free school site left vacant for four years

Janet Downs's picture
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Four years ago, the Department for Education exchanged contracts on the Bowring sports field, Greenwich.  The site was intended to house the permanent buildings of the International Academy of Greenwich.  The DfE paid a ‘refundable deposit’ of £400k to the vendor plus a non-refundable deposit of £120k for ‘the use of the land and to ensure the land remained vacant’, Freedom of Information has revealed.

The DfE had been told of planning issues with the Bowring site before IAG opened in temporary buildings in 2016.  It appears the DfE was so confident planning permission would be granted that it had already exchanged contracts on the site.

But planning permission was not granted.  IAG is to close.

The DfE now plans to seek refund of its £400k deposit.  The vendor will be able to retain the £120k for keeping the land free from other development.  No other compensation will be paid.

The DfE has come through this debacle relatively unscathed.  It can say little public money has been spent on the permanent site.

This contrasts with the calamitous effect of IAG’s closure on the staff and pupils.  Warwick Mansell, Education Uncovered (£), has been contacted by a parent whose son was left ‘sobbing uncontrollably’ when moved to another school after just one day at IAG.   She blamed the council and the trust running the school for not warning her IAG’s future was in jeopardy when she applied for a place.  She also blamed the DfE for opening a school when planning permission for a permanent site was not secured.

The council and the DfE bear responsibility for this scandal.  The council for the way it’s handled school place supply since 2010: closing an existing school, allowing three free schools and a UTC to open and now downgrading demand.  And the DfE for opening a free school in temporary buildings while not having secured planning permission for its permanent site and for ignoring an impact assessment saying IAG would pose a ‘high risk’ to two nearby schools.

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