Bowring Sports Ground
The International Academy of Greenwich wants to build on this site at Bowring Sports Ground

A free school should not be allowed to move to a sports ground in Lee, Greenwich Council planning officers have recommended ahead of a hearing next week.

The International Academy of Greenwich wants to build a 765-pupil school on the Bowring Sports Ground, off Eltham Road. The free school, which opened in 2016, is currently based in an office building in nearby Meadowcourt Road.

Planners say the school would be “an inappropriate development on Metropolitan Open Land”, that there is “no convincing case” for a school at that location and that it would block daylight for residents of nearby homes. 853 reported residents’ worries about the proposal in October 2018.

The site is on the border with Lewisham borough, which accounts for half of its catchment area. Lewisham Council has also objected to the proposal, as has the Blackheath Cator Estate, Blackheath Society, Lee Manor Society, neighbouring residents’ associations and the Campaign to Protect Rural England, which says the site is “particularly unsuitable for development, being a flood plain”.

Free schools are directly funded by the Government rather than local authorities, and the academy – which is run by Big Education Trust, is hoping that pressure on school places in Greenwich borough will mean it can get permission to build on the land.

But Greenwich Council says it already has enough school places planned in future years, and Lewisham also says it also does not need extra school places. The new site is just a few hundred metres from Trinity Lewisham, another secondary school.

Greenwich says the new Leigh Academy Blackheath, Woolwich Polytechnic girls’ school and the planned Harris boys’ free school in Eltham – which is due to open in 2022 – will help it achieve capacity, while Lewisham has recently revised down its forecasts for school places.

International Academy of Greenwich plan
View from the sports ground: The school says its sports facilities will be open to the community

Lewisham has also raised concerns about transport to and from the site – with the school already using Sainsbury’s at Lee Green as a pick-up/drop-off point to ease congestion on the streets around its current site.

There are also environmental concerns about the development damaging the River Quaggy flood defences to the north of the site, with nearby land carefully managed to prevent a repeat of the serious flooding that blighted Lewisham in 1968.

London mayor Sadiq Khan has made protecting Metropolitan Open Land a key plank of his planning policy. In 2017, he initially refused plans for Cray Wanderers FC to build a new ground and housing at Flamingo Park, off the Sidcup by-pass, because the site is Metropolitan Open Land – even though Bromley Council had supported the scheme. However, a revised plan for the site was approved last November.

Greenwich Council’s planning board – its main planning committee – will discuss the proposals at Woolwich Town Hall on Tuesday 30 July.

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