Ashmount School, where squatters moved in when security guards left
Published: 25 October, 2013
by PETER GRUNER
THE Town Hall is being accused of deliberately attempting to scupper a planned free school by removing security at former Ashmount primary in Archway, resulting in more than 100 squatters moving in.
Two caretakers protecting the building were suddenly removed after Islington Council cancelled a £40,000 annual security contract on the grounds it was too costly.
The council has always maintained that it wants houses built on the site rather than another school.
Now pro-free school campaigners fear that with squatters on the premises their plans could be delayed or put under threat.
It is a further twist in the Ashmount saga that has seen recriminations over the future of the site fester for almost a decade.
One squatter called Jason, who invited the Tribune inside the building on Tuesday, said the homeless group, aged from young teens to people in their 60s, would be responsible and not damage the building.
“We want to engage with residents and Islington Council,” he said.
“We would like to run art groups and workshops here and become part of the community.
"And we’re not against a free school, provided it is really free and accepts everyone. And we will be prepared to vacate the building once the free school is ready to move in.”
But resident Teva Hesse said the squatters were able to move in within hours of the caretakers leaving.
“It sounds like a dereliction of duty by the council to me,” he added.
“The council appears to have allowed the property to be taken over. I just hope the squatters don’t hinder plans for the free school because they certainly won’t make things easier.”
The council says it has made it clear to the squatters occupying the building that they are not welcome, and has asked them to leave. An eviction order is being sought.
Councillor Joe Caluori, Labour executive member for children and families said: “At a time of severe government funding cuts, the council could not afford to keep paying in the region of £40,000 a year to maintain a vacant building which may well be taken from us by the Department for Education.
"Nor do we wish to have to pay for an eviction action, which can be avoided by the co-operation of those on-site.
“The former Ashmount School site remains vacant because of the spectre of a free school hanging over it.
"Despite having 18,000 people on our housing waiting lists we are not allowed to proceed with plans for affordable housing on the site but instead have to wait for the government to decide whether they intend to give the site to private companies pushing for a free school we neither want nor need.
“We have no need for a new school in the north of the borough, but a desperate need for family homes.”
THE huge row over the free school – described as a “an ideological gamble” by council leader Richard Watts – planned for the site continued last night, with a public meeting called by campaigners, parents and teachers to fight plans by private companies Bellvue Education and Place Group to take over the Hornsey Lane building.
Education secretary Michael Gove has already given the companies permission to open a school – now they are lobbying for it to be on the Ashmount site, even going so far as to name the proposed school Whitehall Park, after the local area.
If they are successful the Town Hall will lose £3m it was relying on from the sale of the site to a housing association.
At last night’s meeting, chaired by Islington North MP Jeremy Corbyn, parents questioned the assertion that there was not a shortage of primary school places in the area and criticised the council for allowing the school building to be lost to housing.
“Once it is gone we we’ll never get it back,” one said.
But there was also a lot of hostility to the free school which Cllr Watts said would take money away from other schools and create a divided borough. “I will not let the quality of our schools be affected by this ideological gamble,” he said.
A full report of the meeting will appear in next week’s Tribune.