Published: 22 June, 2012
• I WOULD like to clarify a few points about your article (School row erupts on town hall steps, June 13) as I am mentioned as being especially harangued by Councillor Catherine West.
On June 14, Ashmount Site Action Group (ASAG) presented a petition to the Islington Council executive signed by 1,142 Ashmount residents who want the school site to remain in educational use.
Afterwards Cllr West, the council leader, came out of the town hall and headed to the group and proceeded to berate Denis Doherty, a senior teacher and NUT official at St Aloysius’ College, for associating with ASAG.
It was then that Cllr West, in what could only be described as a tirade, claimed that I was “just rich” (I wish!) and “wanted to build a private school on the site”. At no time have I, or ASAG, preferred private schools over state schooling. ASAG has always hoped that the council would come to its senses on the need to retain this school site in view of the impending demand for more school places in the borough.
As a member of the Labour Party, I was a founder member of ASAG in 2008. At that time, Cllr West, in opposition, was supportive of ASAG and, in three conversations with me, agreed the proposals were bad and the school should remain. She also attended an ASAG committee meeting in an advisory capacity. This was before she was elected to power at the Town Hall in 2010 and had her “conversion”.
I continued to believe the proposals were wrong under the previous administration and were still wrong when Labour took power.
I had been a Labour supporter since 1964. The party I joined believed in local democracy. During the last two years, a change of attitude has been demonstrated. Faced with the duplicity and arrogance of councillors towards the concerns of Ashmount residents, and the fact that no Labour councillor bothered to attend an ASAG public meeting after they came to power, in spite of invitations, I felt I could no longer support that party. I retain my democratic socialist principles but am no longer a party member.
A community is made up of far more than mindlessly sited block after block of dense housing which become the slums of tomorrow; a community needs schools, meeting places, shops and green spaces. Islington has been more than exceeding the London housing targets for many years. Now it has been shown there will shortly be a desperate need for more school places in the borough. The executive simply dismissed that need by obfuscating the figures.
As for Cllr West’s feigned outrage against Francis Wilkinson, he did not criticise the current achievements of Ashmount Primary School. What he had said was that years ago the school had been failing. That was a well-known fact. My wife had already pointed out to the executive that recent Ofsted reports were good, before the council official confirmed that to be so. This was one of the reasons why we felt refurbishment of the school had been a better original option than building a new school on one of the last two remaining areas of Metropolitan Open Land in this borough.
However, it was clear that Cllr West wanted to make a theatrical finale to the executive meeting before asking it to approve the council plan.
She did this by the emotional misrepresentation of what Mr Wilkinson had said, at the same time as making a reference to Michael Gove, Secretary of State for Education, with the obvious intention of inferring ASAG was a Tory protest group. ASAG was founded, and has remained, a non-political organisation.
The later “spat on the town hall steps” was entirely of her own creation. The extraordinary scene of Cllr West losing her cool was doubtless triggered by a realisation of the growing protests against her regime’s “housing at any cost” policy. The logical conclusion of the executive’s ill-considered ideology is that we may start to see flats erected on school sports fields and playgrounds. Any space, however inappropriate, is now fair game for housing development.
Peter Berresford Ellis