Mill Hill school wins its initial site battle


The projected Etz Chaim free school in Mill Hill has passed its first planning hurdle by gaining Barnet Council consent for the temporary occupation of premises in Daws Lane for a nursery class for 26 children and a reception class for 28.

Barnet's approval - despite vociferous opposition to the change of use for an empty former civil defence building - means that "parents now have the certainty that the school will open as planned in September", said governors' chair Adam Dawson.

But although councillors voted five-to-one in favour, with four abstentions, local opponents led by lawyer Gaon Hart still claimed "a moral victory".

Mr Hart is optimistic the campaigners can turn the abstentions into votes against the school's chosen permanent location on the site of the neighbouring Wyevale Garden Centre. An application for permission to convert the buildings, with minor modifications, has been submitted to the council, with a decision expected next month.

The idea is for the permanent building to open in September 2012 and to ultimately house 200 pupils. Mr Hart claims a protest petition to be submitted to the council has 2,500 signatures, around 40 per cent from Jewish residents.

We have submitted a sensible planning application

He maintained that the closure of the garden centre would remove a community asset. There were also traffic and pedestrian safety concerns.

Mr Dawson argued that the site was "the only viable alternative. Government money is being used to provide additional and much-needed school places for local kids. The simple reality is that if there was not a proven need, the government would not have provided funding. We believe we have submitted a sensible, solid and coherent planning application which we will leave to be determined on its own merits. My focus at the moment is on practical matters such as finalising the curriculum and getting the staffing right."

His view was that Etz Chaim should be regarded as a local asset. "We aim to make it very much a community school." Suggestions under consideration included opening the playground for public use at weekends and allowing the school hall to be used in the evening for meetings of local groups.

It was also working on a travel plan aimed at reducing school trips by car.

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