London’s second largest hothouse will be saved and the heritage of Avery Hill Park secured after plans for a new, 1,150-student school were approved by Greenwich Council.

The Department of Education’s push for the new school at the University of Greenwich’s Mansion site was formally approved on Tuesday following more than two hours of debate with members of the public and local politicians at a Greenwich planning committee meeting.

Once fully up-and-running the school will provide single-sex education for nearly 1,000 secondary school age boys, with a co-educational sixth form for another 250 students.

The new school will be managed by the Harris Federation Trust who also manage the nearby academies at Falconwood and Greenwich.

Chief among the developments will be the renovation and refurbishment of the Mansion House, while woodland and a 23-year-old BMX bike track will be cleared for new sporting fields, with various smaller structures built since the 1960s to be demolished.

Chief among the attractions will be a facelift funded by the academy of the Winter Garden, a Victorian-era hothouse containing tropical trees and plants from around the world, which will be handed over for the control of Greenwich Council.

While the continuing use of the site to educate the borough’s young people was welcomed by many councillors, there was also a raft of objections to the proposal.

Clive Efford, the Eltham MP, outlined multiple concerns, including the loss of the BMX track at the site, as well as concerns the western section of the site would be “cleansed” and “sanitised” of “all wildlife areas” to make way for new grass pitches.

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He also expressed regret a small nursery employing 20 people would have to move on from the site, while highlighting concerns over parking and traffic troubles increasing.

Traffic concerns and the impact of hundreds of new students travelling to and from school were a returning concern throughout the meeting – particularly given the proximity of the site to another school, Stationers’ Crown Woods academy, just a few hundred metres away.

One resident cast doubts on the applicant’s claims that the majority of students would arrive via public transport, voicing concerns that many instead would be dropped off in individual vehicles by their parents.

“It’ll be a social and environmental disaster. The current infrastructure can’t cope with traffic at peak times,” one said, saying that roads around the site were already used as a rat run during peak hours.

Another resident said planners were “living in kookoo land” to think students would all take buses.

Admitting it was an “emotive” statement, she also talked about concerns students between the new and original schools could clash: “Siting the school there is a big, big mistake, somebody will get hurt and hopefully not killed in the area”.

“It’s sheer and utter madness putting a new school next to an existing one, it’s a recipe for disaster, you’ve been warned”.

While committee chair Cllr Stephen Brain said “social factors” were not a planning consideration, concerns over “anti-social” behaviour were raised again by multiple councillors, including ward member Pat Greenwell.

News Shopper: The plans would include major refurbishment work on existing buildings at the site. image: Greenwich Council.The plans would include major refurbishment work on existing buildings at the site. image: Greenwich Council.

However George McMillan, the principal of Harris Academy Greenwich who is set to take over the stewardship of the new school, said the organisation was well-placed to handle the opening of a new site.

He said the schools would “work together”, with start time and end times staggered by at least 30 minutes.

He added they were “well used to managing teenagers” and were practised in “nipping any issues in the bud”.

He was confident the majority of students would walk or cycle “particularly because they’re boys”, while the proposal would also see the “appalling” historical buildings fixed with better access for local groups.

Debate done, Cllr Denise Hyland reiterated her support for the proposal, stating “it’s a parental right to choose a single-sex school” without having to travel all the way to Thamesmead.

“The last thing I want to see is Avery Hill and its beautiful heritage ground

become moth-balled (with) lots of anti-social behaviour and squatters and the rest of it,” she said.

The majority agreed with her.