North London borough hopes to raise £60m to finance primary schools’ renewal programme

In a pioneering deal, a rapidly growing north London borough is funding its schools revamp programme by selling off surplus playing fields for housing development.

Barnet council, which is set to absorb an extra 30,000 people over the next decade, wants to use the receipts generated from the land sales to cross-subsidise its £218m school replacement and refurbishment programme.

The authority’s primary school capital investment programme is being described by the authority as a DIY version of the government’s Building Schools for the Future (BSF) initiative. Barnet is low down the list for BSF credits because it is relatively affluent.

Instead, the council is selling off schools’ land that it deems surplus for educational needs. Barnet is hoping to raise £60m by this means, as land values are between £7m and £11m per hectare in the borough.

As well as playing fields, the deal includes other surplus land and two single-form-entry primary schools, which are being closed because of low rolls.

The council is seeking the balance of the funding from grants, developer contributions and borrowing. The cross-subsidy element of the programme mirrors similar arrangements used in housing estate regeneration projects.

Barnet has shortlisted five construction companies to become its strategic partner on the programme. Under the first £90m phase of the scheme, the council is planning to hire the partner, using a design-and-build contract, to rebuild 11 primary schools and refurbish one.

Brian Reynolds, the council’s deputy chief executive, defended the controversial decision to sell off playing fields for housing.

”Many of these schools have very extensive playing fields. Given that these are primary schools, you don’t want young children wandering off into the far distance.”