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School Demolition Proceeds Despite No Planning Consent

Although the local council does not yet have all the required planning consent in places, demolition work has been started on Marlborough School in Chelsea.

Campaigners who have been fighting to protect the 137-year-old building watched in dismay as demolition crews reduced walling and an entrance on Draycott Avenue to rubble.

Kensington and Chelsea Council stated that permission to knock down the Victorian era school and rebuild it had been received but Jane Solomon, leader of the campaign to save the building, warned that the royal borough was treading on thin ice legally.

Ms Solomon, who had previously described the development as “unlawful” said that the council had started to demolish the building even though the Department of Education said they did so at their own risk.

Work on the site started on September 7, and demolition has been taking place bit by bit. The building wasn’t scheduled to be knocked down until October according to plans proposed in the council application. Ms Solomon said that the council, under pressure from campaign groups, is attempting to do as much as possible in a short time.

Under current plans, Marlborough School will be rebuilt with retail and office space occupying the same site.

The interim school stands across the road at the John Lewis Clearings site. Mike Ashley, owner of Sports Direct and Newcastle FC, recently purchased the land, and as part of the agreement, money was provided for the new and temporary schools.

Two protests have taken place outside the Peter Jones store in Sloane Square, one of John Lewis’ holdings. In both instances the protesters called for the boycott of all Waitrose and John Lewis branches until all demolition work is stopped pending the October 14 council meeting as well as written permission from the Secretary of the State for Education for disposal of the school playground.

The council and Marlborough headteacher Jessica Finer insist that a new school is necessary. Ms Finer said that both teachers and pupils had to squeeze into the old building, making things “quite tricky at times.”

A Kensington and Chelsea Council spokesman said that the new school building will have a lot more classroom and play spaces. There will even be a special autism centre for 12 pupils, as well as full access for the disabled, a feature the current building does not offer.

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The spokesman added that the new structure will be more energy-efficient and the classrooms will have better sound insulation in place. There will also be accommodations made for teaching of smaller groups and even one-on-one teaching for pupils who need extra assistance.

He confirmed that special consent was needed for disposal of the school land for the commercial building, as well as a footpath connecting Draycott Avenue and Sloane Avenue. A consultation on the latter is currently under way.

The council said that if permission was refused, it would be disappointed and surprised, but pointed out that the rebuilding of Marlborough School was a separate element of the scheme and will carry on even if consent for the new commercial building is refused.

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