Charedi anger at homes to be built on school site

By Leon Symons, March 4, 2010

Hackney Council has denied claims by local Charedi leaders that it reneged on an agreement to keep the site of a former school reserved for educational use.

The Lubavitch, Belz and Satmar groups have launched a campaign to oppose a plan to build luxury homes on the site of the former Skinners' School on Stamford Hill .

They intend to demonstrate at a planning committee meeting next week that will consider the application from Berkeley Homes. Letters of support have been sent by Chief Rabbi Lord Sacks and Board of Deputies' president Vivian Wineman.

Yesodey Hatorah Schools' principal Rabbi Avraham Pinter, who is leading the campaign, said the site represented "a unique opportunity for the Charedi community in Stamford Hill to have improved purpose-built educational facilities. More than 20 per cent of Hackney's under-16s come from the Charedi community and many of our existing schools are old fashioned, sub-standard residential buildings.

"It is an absolute scandal that the educational needs of the fastest growing part of Britain's Jewish community are being ignored by Hackney Council," he claimed.

Rabbi Pinter, who will address the planning committee meeting, said that three years ago, Berkeley outbid three Jewish groups who wanted to build a school on the site.

A Hackney Council spokesperson said it was "planning policy to seek to safeguard educational establishments in the borough. In this case, the council officers are satisfied that it is meeting its policy agreements by permitting the Skinners' School to be rebuilt on the Woodberry Down estate as a modern, purpose-built academy. There has been no agreement that the former site of the Skinners' School is to be reserved for educational purposes."

The council continued to work with the Jewish community to find "sites for schools and to expand existing sites to accommodate educational facilities".

Justin Tibaldi, Managing Director of Berkeley Homes (Capital) Plc comments: “Berkeley Homes purchased Skinners School in May 2008 on a sale and leaseback basis. The proceeds of the sale allowed the Skinners’ Company’s purchase and construction of the new Woodberry Down Academy, located 500 metres away.

"The new Academy will provide 1,150 school places in a new, state-of the–art facility and the school is scheduled to move to its newly completed premises in January 2011.

“This move not only yields double the number of original secondary school places, but it also brings a Grade II listed building back into beneficial use. The building’s facilities have fallen short of those required for modern educational use and it is now in a state of considerable disrepair.

"Working closely with the London Borough of Hackney’s Design and Conservation Team, Berkeley Homes has developed plans which will secure the building’s future and will provide much needed housing to the area.”

Last updated: 12:24pm, March 5 2010