December 9 2013 Latest news:
by Jon Dean
Wednesday, October 30, 2013
Squatters have moved into a controversial former school just 48 hours after security guards left, amid claims the town hall is trying to sabotage plans for a new free school on the site.
It is thought around 100 people have taken up residence in the old Ashmount School building, in Hornsey Rise, two days after professional live-in caretakers had been told to clear out by Islington Council.
A free school, Whitehall Park, looks set to open on the site next September – but the council has always said they want to bulldoze the site and build new housing.
Now members of the Ashmount Site Action Group (ASAG) – who want the site to remain as a school – have accused the council of deliberately letting the squatters in to stop Whitehall Park opening.
A spokesman said: “Council officers have a duty of care to make sure council property and assets are looked after, and so it is at best a dereliction of duty that they cancelled the contract.”
He added: “The squatters were seen to have keys to the site and came in vehicles. Were they encouraged by the council and/or given the tip-off of easy access into the building? The timing certainly looks suspicious.
“You would hardly be considered mad if you thought it was a deliberate ploy to hinder the process of setting up the Whitehall Park Free School.”
The squatters are said to be taking pains not to damage the premises and are happy to leave in time for the new school to be set up.
The ASAG spokesman said: “How ironic that the squatters recognise the need to keep this site for education, while the council refuses to accept it.
“Obviously this situation plays into the hands of the council’s campaign to stop or delay the setting up of the Whitehall Park Free School.
“The less time that the school has to set things up, the more difficult it will be to deliver a smooth opening.”
A spokesman for the council said the council desperately needed the £3million expected for the land if they sold the site – as well as building 82 homes, many of which would be affordable.
She added: “It’s absurd to suggest we let the squatters in. How could that possibly help us? We are in limbo at the moment, and they will have to be evicted regardless of what happens to the site.”
Cllr Joe Calouri, the council’s executive member for children and families, said: “The council could not afford to keep paying £40,000 a year to maintain a vacant building which may well be taken from us by the Department for Education.
“Nor do we wish to have to pay for eviction action which can be avoided by the co-operation of those on-site.”
The final say on the future of the school is with Education Secretary Michael Gove, who could potentially seize the site using new powers under the Education Act of 2011.