Council Names Palingswick House as Home of Free School

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Hammersmith and Fulham Council has announced it has "made formal" its intention to help the West London Free School find a site in the borough, and has named Palingswick House in King Street as its most likely permanent home.

And the school has confirmed the proposed move on its blog.

It has been strongly rumoured for months that Palingswick House, which currently houses 21 local charities and community groups, is being offered to the high profile new school.

The building's current occupants are now reportedly being required to leave by this autumn, and move to new "community hubs" across the borough.

Hammersmith and Fulham Refugee Forum, which works with several organisations in Palingswick House, has condemned the council's action, and said it has not discussed these hubs with the organisations involved.

The council says it is "responding to public calls for clarity on its plans" by identifying two sites: Palingswick House on King Street and the Bryony Centre in White City, which it says could be a temporary home for the school for the first year while Palingswick House is being converted.

Palingswick House is one of the nine sites the council has proposed to sell, in order to reduce its £133 million debt, calling them under-used.

A final decision on the sale of these sites will be taken by the council’s Cabinet at its next meeting on February 7, but it is widely expected the plans will be rubber stamped.

Council Leader Cllr Stephen Greenhalgh confirms these expectations saying: " Having looked at the detailed consultation results and my officers' assessments of the impact of the proposals, I am minded to support the sale of the site, subject to the discussion at Cabinet.

" If we can do that and provide a home for a new school,

offering new choices for local parents, I would be delighted."

West London Free School is one of three local free schools given the go ahead by the Coalition Government in September.  The other, both primary schools in Shepherd's Bush are Ark Conway primary in White City and the Rivendale Free School.

Writer Toby Young, who heads the group planning to launch West London Free School in September, says he hopes to make " a full announcement about the school's site" in the "near future".

The Bryony Centre is currently empty following the relocation of adult education services to the Paragon Centre in White City last summer.

This centre is earmarked for redevelopment as the new home for Cambridge School, a special school currently based in Hammersmith, but the council says it could be available for temporary use by the West London Free School before redevelopment begins.

If Palingswick House is sold, as seems likely, the current occupants will be invited to apply for space in three new community hubs. Two sites, at Edward Woods estate and Lillie Road, are already under development, and the council says it is in discussions with the Lyric Theatre about adding a third community facility at its King Street site, as part of their major redevelopment project.

However, the H & R Refugee Forum says that these "hubs" will provide inadequate space for all the dislaced organisations, and claims many will have to close.

A spokesperson for the forum also challenged Stephen Greenhalgh's assertion that the buildings going up for sale are "under-used".

"We wonder if the council has actually bothered to find out what work goes on day in, day out, in Palingswick House helping many thousands of local residents,” said the spokesperson. " Is the council actually suggesting that there is no longer a requirement to assist the refugees and other residents who depend on the services offered there?"

All new free schools are required by law to consult on their plans. The Secretary of State for Education will make the final decision on whether the school will open, having considered its impact on the local community and existing schools.

In the meantime, West London Free School is accepting applications from parents of local children in year six at primary school until January 31, and it is holding an Open Event for parents at Hammersmith Town Hall's Assembly Hall on January 24 from 5.30pm till 7pm. You can find out more at the school website.

January 18, 2011