The founders of a new primary free school are working on contingency plans should their controversial proposal to open in a public park be rejected.
Floreat Brentford is due to open this September and has applied to do so in temporary buildings at Brent Lea Recreation Ground, in London Road, Brentford.
But its proposals - which would take up about a third of the site for two years, and just under half if the school applies in future to make the park its permanent home - have sparked a campaign against the loss of green space.
Tempers flared at a hastily arranged public meeting on Thursday (May 28) - exactly a week before members of Hounslow Council's planning committee are due to decide the fate of the application, which council officers have recommended for approval.
Opponents claimed the area was already overdeveloped and building on Metropolitan Open Land, which is afforded the same protection as the Green Belt, would set a precedent.
Several members of the audience at St Paul's Church, Brentford, where around 80 people gathered to grill a panel of councillors and council officers, labelled the affair a "stitch-up" and a "disgrace" as they felt the council had already made up its mind.
Denis Browne, of the residents' group Brentford Community Council, said even if the council's planning committee gave the go-ahead, its decision was likely to be overturned by London Mayor Boris Johnson or communities secretary Greg Clark.
But council leader Steve Curran said he believed this was unlikely as the Conservatives would not want to throw a spanner in the works of one of its much-vaunted free schools, which are independent from local authorities.
Amid all the rhetoric, a worried father spoke up to ask what would happen to his daughter, for whom he has accepted a place at the school, should the park plans fall through.
The school's project manager Charlotte Cornish, who was among the audience, assured him it was looking at back-up options.
"We're absolutely working on four contingency plans," she said. "We took the recommendation of the council on this site but we're independently working with the Department for Education and the Education Funding Agency on our contingency plans.
"We can't share those details at the moment as they are commercially sensitive but we have been working on those sites for several months."
A decision on the school's application will be made at a meeting of Hounslow Council's planning committee at Hounslow Civic Centre on Thursday (June 4), at 7.30pm.
Key talking points from the meeting:
Need for school places
The audience widely accepted there was a need for new schools in the area, with the Greater London Authority forecasting demand for 452 primary school entry places in Brentford and Isleworth in 2025/26, compared with 381 in the current school year.
The expansion of St Paul's Primary School, in Brentford, and the opening of Floreat Brentford, which will be two-form entry, mean there will be 450 places available from this September.
There was some debate over whether the council should have foreseen the demand and done something sooner, given the amount of new homes being built locally.
One audience member dubbed the last-minute nature of the school's application "emergency planning" and claimed the decision should not have been left until three months before it is due to open.
Councillor Curran said the council had already expanded a number of existing schools but did not have control over when or where new free schools were built.
Councillors also pointed out plans had been in place for a new primary school at the Commerce Road site in Brentford, only for those to be scuppered when Transport for London said it needed the land for a bus garage.
Loss of green spaces
Council officers claimed the demand for new school places meant the application met the special circumstances needed to build on protected Metropolitan Open Land.
Most of those in the audience appeared to disagree, claiming it fell short of the requirements set out in government regulations.
Fears were also raised about the plans setting a precedent, leading to the loss of more Metropolitan Open Land, but council officers argued that the circumstances were so specific that would not be the case.
Many people took umbrage at council claims the area was already over-endowed with open spaces, which it said made up a third of land in the area - higher than average for both the borough and London.
The council's head of leisure Sarah Ruane said the council didn't have the money to maintain all its open spaces to the standard it would like, which is why it was exploring new ways to look after them.
She said rental income from the school would be used to improve the remainder of the site, with options ranging from new flower beds to play equipment and even an indoor gym.
A number of possible brownfield sites were posited by audience members, including the old Brentford police station, but the council said they were all unsuitable or unavailable as the owners didn't want to sell.
Former councillor Andrew Dakers said there might be land available for a school in Ballymore's development to the south of Brentford High Street.
Ballymore's application had mentioned reserving space for Watermans to relocate there, but the arts centre is now set to move to the old police station site, meaning the reserved space could be available for other uses.