Friday, 13 May 2011
Holland Park School: Chickens home to roost...
Readers will remember that Cllr Cockell became fixated with this Trophy project hoping that it would buy him entry to the House Of Lords. He pushed, shoved and bullied until the £100 million project (which started out as a £33 million project in the first communication to residents from the Council) to knock down and rebuild a perfectly good school was approved by the Planning Committee of RBKC. Unfortunately not one extra school place was created - just a brand new high rise building financed by the sale of the school playground.
The preoccupation with ramming through a Trophy project blinded the Council Leaders to changes in Government policy for education Holland Park School is a comprehensive catering to 1400 students. This was the educational vogue in the 1960's when these schools were specified. But current Government policy is for small schools that can deliver good pastoral care. Cockel's "Trophy" is unfortunately a White Elephant.. It is also strange that the Mayor, who had previously announced that he would never allow school playing fields in London to be sold off, refused an application to call in the proposal and block the sale. Residents were stunned by this. But then a few months later Cllr Cockel returned the favour and backed the Mayor's bicycle scheme in Kensington and suppressed opposition from councillors, officials and residents.
Of course these complex projects are never straightforward and when they involve a joint venture with property developers, BEWARE. The council cooked up a deal whereby the project was given the go ahead as soon as the playground was sold. The wise men in Hornton Street considered that the best offer available (buy now, pay later) was from G C Campden LLP (a special purpose vehicle set up by the Duke of Westminster's Grosvenor Estates and Native Land) which paid over a £10 million deposit and a promise to pay the balance when the land is released for housing development in 2013. Part of the deal was a painstakingly approved scheme for housing and flats on the site plus new "affordable housing" to be built next to a railway line in North Kensington. In the meantime the Council is using £90 million of reserves (built up by over taxing hard pressed residents of K&C) to rebuild the school in the hope that the money will be repaid when the property developer coughs up.
It was reported at the AGM that the property developer has decided that it wants fewer and bigger flats and is no longer prepared to proceed with the agreed scheme. Fewer flats also means less "affordable housing". Maybe this change of heart has something to do with the recession? But regardless, the developer has the council over a barrel. The council admits that it may have to re market the land. And of course the clever developer could let the special purpose vehicle go into administration and re tender at a much lower market price for the playground. In the meantime the reserves are on the hook for this crazy £100 million project and there is only one way that the costs will go. UP......
Our business dabblers in Hornton Street, with not an ounce of commercial ability amongst the lot of them, have committed four cardinal sins:
* they sold the land without a bank guarantee to cover the agreed price
* they exposed council tax payers to an open ended commitment
* they are subsidising the project by making taxpayers money available to finance the project (this is equivalent to an £8 million plus subsidy at commercial rates)
* they signed a development contract with a planning obligation for new "affordable housing" that is not worth the paper that it is written on
The Duke of Westminster and the Duke of Buccleuth (Native land) have our boys in Hornton Street by the short and curlies. The tax payers are picking up the tab for building the school. Life for a whole generation of schoolchildren is hell. And Pooter never made it to the Lords.
It is ironic that Buccleuch, a descendent of sheep stealers, will find himself in sympathetic company.
Labels: Holland Park School