BY KIRSTY PURNELL
Heritage groups are at loggerheads with town hall chiefs about plans to build a school on protected metropolitan open land.
Lambeth council wants to demolish the Spinney Centre on Clapham Common to allow Clapham Manor Primary to build a Special Educational Needs (SEN) centre.
But pressure group the Clapham Society has objected because it says the plans will see 66sqm of Clapham Common built on.
The Open Spaces Society, an organisation that campaigns for protection of green space, has also written a letter of objection to the Government’s planning inspectorate, which is likely to have the ultimate say on the scheme.
The space in question consists of a play area, made up of flower beds and play surface rather than the grass itself, but this area still falls under commons protection.
Clapham Manor School already uses the Spinney Centre in Windmill Drive for activities after taking the site over from a private nursery in 2013.
A £500,000 grant from Lambeth’s SEN budget has prompted the school to take steps to get a bigger building.
The Spinney building currently occupies 94sqm of land, and the proposals would see it rise to 160sqm.
This will allow for a new entrance and buggy park to be built for the centre.
Council officials argue that the public benefit outweighs a small loss of land, and expect a decision from the planning inspectorate in the next few months.
Opponents argue that allowing this development on common land could set a precedent for space-strapped councils across London.
They are also against the area being increased by 66sqm as well as part of the common being fenced off to create an “exclusive” zone.
The Clapham Society’s Mark Leffler said: “We have no objection to them building a school. But metropolitan open land in the borough is being effectively given away.
“The problem with that is that it will be designed for a particular client group – but the common is meant to be there for everybody to use.
“There’s going to be a larger building and it’s going to be fenced off from the rest of the common, for exclusive use.
“There’s a real worry this could create a precedent across London, with cash-strapped councils and expanding schools.”
But Clapham Labour councillor Nigel Haselden argued that there was no such thing as a precedent in planning because everything is taken on a case-by-case, borough-by-borough basis.
“Every planning application stands on its own feet,” he said. “I’m on a planning committee and we look at everything case-by-case.
“There will be no loss of open grass surface and no loss of trees. It’s a corner of the land that’s not really used. It is technically metropolitan open land. But the argument is that there’s far greater public gain.
“If people keep an open mind and examine the scale of the land lost and also the circumstances then hopefully they won’t find it too much of a concern.”
A spokesman for Lambeth council said the proposals have been determined to have “minimal impact” on the common.
He said: “The small amount of land to be added to the site was viewed as appropriate at planning.
“This proposal would see the replacement of a substandard building with a fit-for-purpose fully-accessible building that supports local families, which would be accessible to all, and that
promotes community cohesion and emotional well-being.”
Headteacher of Clapham Manor Primary, Renuka Chinnadurai, said: “Users tell us that The Spinney provides a unique secure outdoor recreational space where they can experience the natural environment.
“This has in turn already improved their family’s physical, emotional and mental health and well-being.
This is backed by validated research.
“As a culturally diverse, inclusive community school, we work in collaboration on various community projects that support community cohesion and develop an ethos of stewardship among our young people so that they become responsible citizens in modern day Britain.”