Woodside residents worried over contract for Oasis academy

Along comes another non-public “public consultation” non-consultation, which has all the appearances that the local authority wants as few people as possible take part.

The notice – which we have reproduced below – was first spotted by Inside Croydon’s loyal reader just before the weekend, and involves the proposed Oasis-sponsored six-form entry academy to be built on the site of Ryelands Primary and on Metropolitan Open Land, or MOL, next to Croydon Arena.

Arena Academy consultation

The notice gets pinned to a fence or a lamp post or two, but is not sent directly to any local residents – many of whom have deep-seated concerns about this example of over-development in their neighbourhood.

This method of distribution is all thanks to “Big” Eric Pickles, the Tory Secretary of State for local government, whose peculiar notion of public engagement helps to save planning authorities a bit of dosh on envelopes and stamps, and to avoid the nasty inconvenience of having actually to meet or listen to many of the public.

Notice, too, the short notice given for the meeting – to take place next week, on November 12 – and how the consultation meeting is just for three brief hours. If a resident has other commitments at that time? Tough. Commuting back from work? Tough. Children to look after? Tough.

Paul Scott: chairman of Croydon's planning committee

Paul Scott: chairman of Croydon’s planning committee

This is what passes for public engagement under a London local authority in 2014. Openness and transparency eh?

What is far from open and transparent are suggestions that the whole consultation and planning process is little more than lip-service, a charade for appearances sake because the previous Tory council administration signed a contract with the Oasis evangelical group to deliver the academy, whatever the local considerations.

There is also widespread worries because Croydon Council’s planning committee is biased in favour of the scheme, as it is loaded with three councillors who are governors of existing Oasis academies, and it is chaired by Paul Scott, a Labour councillor who was previously a governor of an Oasis academy.

None of the four councillors excluded themselves from a recent meeting which discussed the Arena Academy’s pre-planning application.

“The elephant in the room is the figures which most definitely illustrate that there is no need for this school,” one resident involved in the neighbourhood’s opposition campaign told Inside Croydon. “We have good secondary provision in this area. This fact is consistently glossed over, fudged in reports and blocked in consultation meetings.”

The residents regard this six-forms-of-entry school – that is, nearly 1,000 pupils, plus teachers and other staff – as hanging “like the ‘Sword of Damocles’ over our community, our Metropolitan Open Land and our access to South Norwood Country Park.

“South Norwood Country Park is the only green space in this ward, and is habitat to diverse wildlife. The school, its buildings, sport and access, will undoubtedly have a profound effect on the delicate infrastructure of the country park.”

What is perhaps of greatest concern is how Woodside residents feel deserted, even betrayed, by their councillors. “We feel the odds are stacked against us. We have no big guns in our corner. Oh yes, we have local councillors… We have Tony Newman, who cannot help us as he is the council leader. We have Paul Scott, who cannot help us, as he is chair of the planning committee, and previously an Oasis governor. We have Hamida Ali, who is also on the planning committee. Who listens to us. Full stop.

“We are not happy that Paul Scott remains in this role during the process of this application. Since the council elections, Paul Scott has swung to Oasis side. Obviously, prior to the council elections and as a local candidate he was most supportive of our cause, and indeed a review was done following the election, as promised. Unfortunately, the review was conducted by the same council official who introduced the original plans to us as if the Oasis Arena were some Christmas turkey for the peasantry, and therefore we should be extraordinarily grateful.”

This council officer, the residents believe, “has no time for the residents and regards us as a nuisance to be ignored at all costs”.

So the posting of the consultation notices will have done nothing to dispel that impression, nor that any decision on granting planning permission is a foregone conclusion – especially since Croydon Council has been accepting applications for Year 7 entry to the Arena Academy for September 2015.

The residents have called for all four councillors who have Oasis links – who are Tories as well as Labour – to be stood down from any future discussions of this development at the planning committee.

The locals have good cause to suspect that their interests are about to be bulldozed in favour of building a too-large secondary school on a too-small site in the middle of some tightly packed residential streets.

According to one Town Hall source, the planning committee is already considering granting permission to the scheme simply because of the financial repercussions of not granting permission, because of the contract signed with Oasis. This despite many serious planning issues which ought to see the proposals dismissed as unsuitable, and because the scheme to build on MOL may even be unlawful.


Coming to Croydon


  • Inside Croydon: Croydon’s only independent news source, based in the heart of the borough: 407,847 page views (Jan-Jun 2014) If you have a news story about life in or around Croydon, a residents’ or business association or local event, please email us with full details at inside.croydon@btinternet.com

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About insidecroydon

News, views and analysis about the people of Croydon, their lives and political times in the diverse and most-populated borough in London. Based in Croydon and edited by Steven Downes. To contact us, please email inside.croydon@btinternet.com
This entry was posted in Education, Hamida Ali, Oasis Academy, Paul Scott, Planning, Tony Newman, Woodside and tagged , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to Woodside residents worried over contract for Oasis academy

  1. Mary Wolf says:

    I am intrigued by your assertion that applications for Year 7 admissions for September 2015 are already being accepted by Croydon Council. If things go according to schedule, and I believe building work on the replacement Primary is on time, the Primary will be ready for occupation in April 2015 when, I understand, work on the site of the Secondary is scheduled to begin. 4 months is surely not going to be enough time to provide accommodation for any year 7s – unless, of course, it is planned to put them in the vacated premises while work proceeds on other parts of the site?…..

    • We’re not saying the plan is a good one, Mary. It clearly is not.

      But, as confirmed by a Labour councillor in another ward, and as was the case until the closing date last Friday, Croydon was indeed accepting applications for the Oasis Arena Academy for September 2015.

      What wonderful school day memories those 180 11-year-olds will have as they look out on a building site from their Nissan huts, or whatever other sub-standard accommodation they are forced to endure.

  2. Rod Davies says:

    While general cynicism leads me to believe in the first instance that anything the council does is questionable, I do wonder whether behind this may be some vague rationality.

    It seems to me that it is getting harder for bright Croydon children to secure places in the Sutton and Bromley grammar schools due to intense competition. Seven years ago it was evident that certain boys schools were willing to “bend” the rules to facilitate the entry of high performing boys in specific STEM subjects from far out of South London. (ah the consequence of League Tables!)

    If Croydon gets some more high performing secondary schools in the borough, then perhaps parents wouldn’t look to either the adjoining boroughs or the private sector. This especially applies to the middle class parents.

    Were Croydon middle class parents to send their children, out of choice, to Croydon state schools then their voice would be heard immediately championing the maintenance and development of standards in schools. Nothing drives up school performance than “pushy” middle class parents, and also nothing guarantees funding for schools more than the same body of parents.

    While my suspicions regarding the council’s intentions, it would be very interesting if it were to initiate an open debate about the future of Croydon secondary schools and the potential strategies to develop local schools to meet local needs and aspirations.

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