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St Olave’s School: Southwark in new legal tussle with Berkeley Homes

Berkeley Homes is demanding a public inquiry over Southwark's failure to reach a decision on plans to turn the old St Olave's Grammar School in Tooley Street into a boutique hotel.

St Olave's Grammar School
The former St Olave's School was designed by Old Bailey architect EW Mountford
Potters Fields
The future of the school buildings is to an extent bound up with Berkeley's 8 proposed towers on the adjacent coach park site at Potters Fields

Berkeley Homes purchased the former St Olave's Grammar School building – latterly occupied by Lambeth College – for £7.1 million. The building is adjacent to the controversial Potters Fields coach park site.

In January this year it applied for planning permission to turn the listed building into a 56-bed boutique hotel.

The application came before Southwark's planning committee in September. Although members were minded to reject the application they decided to postpone a decision whilst further information was gathered about the efforts Berkeley Homes had made to find a new educational use for the building.

Berkeley's plans for the school – including a new lift tower by Ian Ritchie, the architect of the Potters Fields towers – came in for sharp criticism from councillors on the planning committee. Cllr Helen Jardine-Brown called the lift tower a "weird Tardis-like thing" and "one of the nastiest things I have ever seen at a planning committee meeting". Other committee members called it an "opaque carbuncle" that "degrades the building".

Simon Hughes MP spoke as an objector at the September planning meeting, arguing that he was aware of organisations interested in buying the school building for continued educational use.

Since September Berkeley Homes has appealed to the Planning Inspectorate against Southwark's non-determination of the application and requested that the appeal be heard by public inquiry.

Next Tuesday the planning committee is due to discuss the application to indicate what their decision would have been had it still been in their power to determine the application.

Potters Fields row rumbles on

Long-time observers of the planning history of the Potters Fields site and the school will have a sense of deja-vu. Berkeley Homes also took the council to public inquiry over its non-determination of the plan for eight cylindrical towers on the adjacent Potters Fields coach park site.

Having been granted planning permission on appeal in 2006, the Berkeley Homes scheme for the coach park is still shrouded in uncertainty as the land ownership remains split between Berkeley and Southwark Council.

This autumn Mayor of London Ken Livingstone waded into the row, demanding action from Southwark to resolve the empasse. A flurry of publicity produced new offers for Southwark's portion of the land, but a decision on which bid (if any) to accept has been postponed till the new year in the wake of the resignation of Riverside councillor Paul Baichoo which triggered this week's by-election.

The council's ruling Lib Dem-Tory executive is due to consider the Potters Fields issue in January.

Election issue

The Liberal Democrats, Labour and the Conservatives have all highlighted the future of Potters Fields in their Riverside by-election literature.

A Lib Dem election leaflet quotes Simon Hughes MP: "The Mayor's position is extraordinary. He's backing an ugly and hated scheme against the wishes of local people."

Meanwhile Labour's candidate has criticised the council's failure to reach a resolution to the situation: "Nick Stanton has once again failed to show any leadership on this issue. He seems to regard avoiding a decision as the same thing as having a policy," says Cormac Hollingsworth.

Meanwhile Tory candidate Rahoul Bhansali warns that the Mayor's intervention could short-change Southwark taxpayers: "A Compulsory Purchase Order will not realise the true value of the land and undermines the efforts of the council to achieve an outcome suitable for local residents."

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