Saga over open space nears end as Hindu trust get green light for free school

Children at Krishna Avanti School could be attending an even bigger school in Stanmore if the project goes ahead

The saga over what to do with an open space seems to have been decided, with a free school set to be built on the land after being given approval by a government agency.

For five years Harrow Council has been weighing up its options over what to do with Whitchurch Playing Fields, in Wemborough Road, Stanmore, with a private sports complex being favourite to get the nod until the new Conservative administration, who took power in September last year, scrapped the idea in favour of a free school.

In January, the council commissioned the Environmental Funding Agency (EFA) to come up with a feasibility study for the site, to assess if the Avanti Schools Trust, who run both Krishna Avanti Primary School in Camrose Avenue, Edgware, and Avanti House School in Common Road, Stanmore, could build an all-through school that would accommodate 1,260 students after reaching full capacity.

Susan Hall, the Tory leader of Harrow Council, said: “There is a pressing need for more school places in Harrow so it is a major step forward for the Whitchurch site to be formally recognised as suitable for development.

“We have worked closely with the Avanti Schools Trust who already have a strong and indeed unique track record in Harrow serving our significant Hindu Community.

“Harrow is a majority Asian borough and I believe the arrival of a Hindu school will mean increased choice for parents.

“Ultimately, the council’s priority is to ensure every child growing up in Harrow has the chance to attend a good school, and the market should reflect the borough’s diversity.”

The rival bidders – a selection of out-of-town businessmen named The Whitchurch Consortium – who favoured by the previous Independent Labour administration, promised they would bring world-class sporting facilities to the borough, however it has since emerged when Conservative MP for Harrow East Bob Blackman debated the topic in Westminister that many were sceptical over how the deal was structured.

The MP said: “Campaigners are open to appropriate suggestions about the future of the site, but they are naturally wary of shady deals behind closed doors which will prevent local groups, particularly local schools, from using the fields as they have done for decades.

“It was given at a ‘peppercorn’ rent which turned out to be, after a long battle was fought by residents for information, zero pounds. Nothing. Harrow Council, under Labour, gave away 25 acres of communal land to a private consortium for free.”

Live: Whitchurch Playing Fields parliamentary debate

It is understood that the new school, which could soon submit a planning application to the council, would have within its lease that it has a responsibility to oversee community facilities that would be open to the community and sports groups outside of school hours.

A spokesman at the EFA told getwestlondon: “We have carried out an extensive feasibility study over the last six weeks and as a result we have come up with a plan that works for the school, works for the Harrow community and works for the EFA.”

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Arvin Mahen, operations manager of the Whitchurch Consortium, has said that the group could consider legal action against the council, who named them as the ‘preferred bidder’ for the site in 2011.

Councillors will be asked to approve the EFA report on Thursday evening at an authority cabinet meeting.

Source: getwestlondon