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Mayor shows "reckless naivety" in deal with private developer over new Southwark school – Stephen Knight AM

May 29, 2015 5:32 PM

The Mayor's decision to force the sale of the former Southwark fire station site to a developer saying it wants to provide a new school, but without contractually requiring a school to be built, shows a "reckless naivety" in his dealings with private developers, says Stephen Knight, the Liberal Democrat London Assembly Member and member of the London Fire and Emergency Planning Authority.

Recently the Mayor has used his power of 'Mayoral Direction' to force through the sale of the former Southwark fire station to Hadston, a developer backed by controversial US-based private equity firm Westbrook Partners that says it is committed to building a new free school on the site. However, the Mayor forced the fire authority not to insist that the sale be conditional on the developer delivering a school on the site. The contract agreed by the Mayor merely requires that Hadston use its "best endeavours" to obtain planning permission for a scheme including the provision of a new secondary school on the site. Should Southwark Council take more than six months to deal with the planning application or turn it down, then the developer is not compelled to go to appeal and can use the site for luxury housing instead. Even if Southwark Council grants planning permission for a scheme including a school, the developer is under no compulsion to actually build a school and could simply submit a subsequent application for a purely housing scheme on the site.

Stephen Knight AM has now set out his concerns about the stance adopted by the Mayor in writing (copy enclosed).

Calling for a stronger stance in negotiations with developers, Stephen Knight said:

"I hope this deal does deliver the new school that Southwark pupils so desperately need, however the contract in no way guarantees this outcome. Given that the Mayor intervened in the sale of this site for the express purpose of delivering a school, it shows reckless naivety that he refused to allow the fire authority to make the deal conditional on a school being delivered.

"We were told that the developer, and its US-based private equity backer, wouldn't do a deal if it was conditional on delivering a new school, which must beg some serious questions about their commitment to the new school and certainly set alarm bells ringing amongst members of the fire authority.

"The Mayor's stance is simply to hope for the best that a school will be provided, despite the fact that the developer must have a big financial incentive to do the opposite."