Row over Holloway free school plans that could ‘ruin park’

Val Hammon (far right) and the friends of Mary Magdelene Gardens

Val Hammon (far right) and the friends of Mary Magdelene Gardens - Credit: Archant

A row has broken out over a plan for a new school that critics say could endanger lives and some of the oldest trees in the borough.

St Mary Magdalene Academy in Liverpool Road wants to place The Courtyard, a new special school, in the old coroner’s court adjacent to the neighbouring church grounds.

Islington Council is currently consulting on the plans, which include the 36-pupil facility – one of the government’s new flagship free schools – and two residential properties, which will then go before the planning committee in the next few weeks.


Residents say the plans include vehicle access which could put the lives of park users at risk – as well as chopping down three trees and eating up some of the borough’s limited green space.

Val Hammond, vice-chair of the Friends of St Mary Magdalene Gardens, said: “It’s a stitch-up between the church and the school – it’s like it’s already been decided.

“This will make money for the church but it will endanger people and change the whole nature of the park. It’s a recipe for disaster.

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“We are extremely concerned. The plans include chopping down three trees – we have the oldest trees in Islington in this park. It’s chipping away at another piece of Islington’s precious green space.

“I feel like screaming. I can’t begin to tell you how angry we all are. It’s like nobody cares.”

The Friends of St Mary Magdalene Gardens want to use the building as a museum for the former coroner’s court.

Ms Hammond said: “We want to keep the building and the park public. The council spent £400,000 in 2009 and we have the least amount of green space of any London borough.”

Reverend Rust, chair of the educational trust that will run the new free school, said: “It’s an essential provision which we don’t currently have in the borough.

“It will make some money for the church but, if we really wanted to make money, we would have sold the building commercially.”


Paul Hollingum, head of St Mary Magdelene Academy, said: “We have spent a lot of time with the planners because it’s a listed building and the plans are fantastic. It’s in a dilapidated state at the moment so anything would be an improvement.

“In terms of the vehicle access, we aren’t adding any roads or anything like that and we expect there to be less vehicle access than there is now.

“A very small number of students will walk to and from The Courtyard but we really don’t expect the character of the park to be affected. I’m not aware of any trees being chopped down.”

Islington Council confirmed the proposal is to remove two middle-aged sycamores and one mature elder.