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Waterloo ‘free school’ wins planning permission for Hercules House

London SE1 website team

Plans for a new secondary 'free school' in Waterloo took a step forward this week when councillors approved plans to convert a former Government office block to educational use - but the school has yet to gain control of the building.

Waterloo ‘free school’ wins planning permission for Hercules House
Hercules House
Hercules House
The office block overlooks the railway line into Waterloo

The planning application was made by the Waterloo-based Oasis charity which last summer won its bid to open a secondary school, to be known as Oasis Academy South Bank, under the Government's free school initiative.

On Tuesday evening Lambeth Council's planning applications committee approved plans for Hercules House in Hercules Road to be turned into a new school. The scheme also includes provision for Oasis College, a higher education institution currently based in the nearby Oasis Centre.

Primary school Oasis Academy Johanna recently announced it plans to double its pupil roll and the scheme would also provide extra space for primary classes.

Minor conversion works include infilling of courtyards to create assembly and recreation spaces and creation of rooftop play areas at fourth floor level.

"We're really pleased that we've been given permission for change of use tonight which allows us now to go ahead with central Government to make a bid to buy the building," Oasis founder Steve Chalke told the London SE1 website.

"So we have cleared one hurdle and we race on to the next one.

"We know that by the end of February we need to be very clear about where this school is going to be to give certainty to parents as they choose to send their children to Oasis Academy South Bank."

Last autumn the building – part of a portfolio held by Guernsey-based property investment firm Mapeley and now being sold by receivers – was valued at £12.37 million.

The receivers are now inviting offers of at least £20 million for the building.

The Government has a 25-year lease on the building but has exercised a break clause and will vacate the building in September this year.

The building's main tenant was the Central Office of Information which was abolished earlier this year. Current occupants include environment quango Natural England.

During the meeting, Steve Chalke stressed that the school's catchment area would be local to Waterloo.

Two residents from the Blake House flats opposite the office building addressed members.

Nick Copcutt said that he was against current government policy of turning decrepit old government office blocks into schools. In Waterloo this would mean a loss of 960 jobs with just 160 created. He suggested that the building could be occupied by Guy's & St Thomas' NHS Foundation Trust which was looking for off-site office space. Being in a third-floor flat in a quiet street he was also concerned about noise such as whistles from the roof play areas and loss of light.

Susan Watson drew attention to possible problems caused by extra traffic movements around the building. She also questioned the position of a large cycle parking compound.

Architect Alan Brown said that the upper deck would be surrounded by a 'living hedge screen' set back from the building edge. Food delivery and refuse collections would be at the rear of the block but the cycle park was being placed in view of the main street for security.

Waterloo Community Development Group supported the scheme despite raising several concerns about the amenity impact on residents.

It was agreed that a contribution towards a public artwork should be accepted despite a suggestion that the sum could be diverted towards an improved Waterloo Library. A suggestion from Cllr Steve Bradley that funding set aside for transport improvements should include cycling infrastructure was also agreed.

The committee's agreement was unanimous.

• The academy is holding an open evening for parents and families on Monday 21 January

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