While Zelo Street investigations into the sudden departure of head teacher Sam Naismith from the West London Free School (WLFS), domain of the loathsome Toby Young, continue, another eyebrow-raising item has come to my notice. WLFS opened in 2011 using temporary premises, and a move to a permanent site has been promised, but not achieved – until now.
You'll have to flog the vino to pay for it, Tobes
The WLFS started life in a site on Cambridge Grove, but the following year, told that “We are delighted to be unveiling our plans for Palingswick House. After some restoration and refurbishment carried out by Willmott Dixon, this historic building in the heart of Hammersmith will become our permanent home”. Palingswick House is on King Street in Hammersmith.
And so it came to pass that the WLFS is still at Cambridge Grove, and nothing more appears to have been heard about Palingswick House. In the meantime, the deeply subversive Guardian reported that the average cost of setting up a Free School had risen to £6.6 million. Well, have I got news for Alan Rusbridger and his team: Tobes’ Free School looks set to blow that figure out of the water.
That’s because, in addition to all the dosh that has already been expended on the Cambridge Grove site, and all those other items required to get a school up and running, the WLFS has just committed to blowing a sum in excess of £9 million – you read that right – of taxpayers’ money acquiring a recently refurbished office building in Hammersmith that is definitely not Palingswick House.
Chartered surveyors Hanover Green have announced “F&C REIT and Berwick Hill Properties have sold the freehold of the recently refurbished office building at 2 Bridge Avenue, Hammersmith, London W6 to the West London Free School despite strong interest from office owner occupiers”. So WLFS has had to go to the open market to find a suitable building – and compete with commercial interests.
The announcement continues “The 15,896 sq ft four-storey property has been sold by the joint venture partners through joint agents Hanover Green for £9.25 million. The property was marketed to occupiers and owner occupiers and generated strong interest with conversion to a new school winning the day”. So more money will have to be spent to “convert” the building to school use.
Palingswick House was being sold by the local authority, and WLFS could have expected to secure the premises without entering a bidding war. Moreover, two years ago property prices were not as buoyant as today. So not only has Tobes’ school somehow failed to get its first choice building, it has also had to pay top dollar and will have to shell out more still before moving.
And don’t forget, folks, it’s we the taxpayers who are paying for it.