Merton council hypocrisy

Merton councillors are so desperate to support AFC Wimbledon in its bid to secure a stadium in Plough Lane that they are happy to condemn local children to a lengthy commute rather than consider the site for a much-needed school.

Since Wimbledon FC left the borough, its former ground has been converted into flats, and now AFCW’s developer partner wants to build a whopping 602 EXTRA apartments just down the road, to fund a new stadium for the club. Plus there are proposals to build a further 100 flats on the neighbouring Volante site in Summerstown.

You can’t argue that there will be a lot of extra children looking for school places once all these new homes have been built in a concentrated area. So where will they be educated? Merton primary schools have all massively expanded over the past six years and are now bursting at the seams. As the ‘bulge’ moves up through the education system, secondary schools are now also starting to feel the squeeze.

So what state secondary schools are available for kids in the Wimbledon Park, Abbey and Trinity areas? There’s Ricards Lodge High School for girls, The Ursuline (if girls meet the Catholic entry criteria), Wimbledon College (ditto for boys), or Rutlish School for boys two miles away in Merton Park.  All good schools, but (with the exception of Ricards) they are either not openly available to local children, or a bit of a hike.

Merton Borough Council recognises the need for a new secondary school, but is keeping quiet about where it could be sited. Why the secrecy? Aren’t residents entitled to join the debate about where their children could be going to school in a few years time?

One thing is certain, however. It won’t be within walking distance, as the only site big enough for a school round here has already been ‘promised’ to a football club for a 20,000-seat stadium. That’s AFC Wimbledon, whose last four home games have attracted an average attendance of less than 3,500 (one game attracted a meagre 1,251 spectators!).

As Cllr Martin Whelton, Cabinet member for Education, said in a written reply to Wimbledon Park cllr Linda Taylor at last night’s full council meeting:

‘The [Plough Lane] site was rejected as unsuitable for a school for the following reasons:

  • not affordable
  • not financially viable
  • would stop AFC Wimbledon returning to the borough
  • most of the school places will go to Wandsworth’

Remember too, that this decision was made in private, by members of the local Labour Party rather than by councillors representing residents across the borough.

And if Merton is not prepared to create local school places within the borough for residents of the borough, who will have to educate them? Wandsworth, as their schools will be closer than Merton schools. No wonder Wandsworth has registered its objection to this ill-thought-through scheme.

And as for affordability, the only thing pushing up the value of the Plough Lane site is the fact that billionaire property developer Galliard Homes wants to build a dense, profitable housing development on it!

We’re not saying the Plough Lane site should definitely house a school, but we do think having all these decisions made by a small number of Labour councillors, behind closed doors, with minimal or no public consultation is pretty sick-making. And effectively being told that no other plans have or will be considered for Plough Lane because of AFC Wimbledon’s ambitions for the site is undemocratic and, in the eyes of many residents (yes, there is a lot of talk about the issue around here), totally unacceptable.

Shame on you. Merton.

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