The Dulwich Almshouse Charity is proposing to build a new almshouse building in the land fronting Half Moon Lane near the junction with Village Way. Originally leased in the 1960s by King’s College London as its botany school, the buildings on the site were last used as the Sir James Black Laboratory. The site has been empty for some time and the CfBT Schools Trust (now the Educational Development Trust) approached King’s to assign its lease to allow the site to be used for a new bi-lingual school free school - the Judith Kerr Primary School (JKPS). As the lease had less than 50 years to run the Education Funding Authority (EFA) who funded the purchase of the assignment asked for it to be extended for a longer period, 125 years.

In its negotiation with the Dulwich Estate the CfBT agreed that it would surrender part of the site previously leased to Kings (the open area north east of the old laboratory building) in return for a new 125 year lease on the remainder. For its part the Estate agreed to make a planning application for the surrendered part of the site by the end of 2018. If this was successful, the future of the School was assured under a 125 year lease. If the application was unsuccessful the whole site reverted to the school at the end of the current lease, in 2062.

The Dulwich Estate’s view is that the proposed application by The Dulwich Almshouse Charity to build new almshouses on the open site is in line with the legal agreement between CfBT and the Estate and that CfBT opened the new school in the full knowledge of its agreement to surrender part of the site. In its planning application to regularise the school use on the site in May 2014 the supporting statement says that “This open grassed area has been retained by Dulwich Estates”.

The counter argument from the school’s parents, who were unaware of the terms of the original legal agreement, is that the disputed open space is an integral part of the school and that to take it away and build on it is unreasonable.

The situation is complicated by two things. The first is the principle of the proposed development which relocates the historic almshouses (which fail to meet modern standards) from the site of the Old College, and the implied political discussion over the benefits for old people versus the young. The second is the current consultation over the new Southwark Plan. In 2007, when the building on the site was empty, the approved plan designated the whole of the school site land as a ‘development site’. In the first draft of the New Southwark Plan (published in 2014), the site was still earmarked as a 'potential site for development' and this was only amended following parents, and some local residents, challenging the designation and requesting protection for the playground. The current draft of the new plan identifies the site as ‘Other Open Space’ which cannot be built other than in exceptional circumstances. The parents view is that the development potential of the site was realised when the site was taken over by the CfBT Trust as a free school.

Parents have now set up the Judith Kerr Primary School Green Space Campaign to seek the retention of the site as a playground for the school. Pointing out that the removal of the open space would severely restrict opportunities for play and sport for the school children, it also notes that, even including the playground, the school still only has less than half the Department of Education’s recommended minimum external space for P.E and play, which would fall to 19% of the site area without the playground. It contrasts this with the Dulwich Estate’s three local beneficiary schools (Alleyn’s School, Dulwich College and James Allen’s Girls’ School) whose extensive playing fields enjoy Metropolitan Open land protection. They consider it inequitable that this protection should not also be afforded to the Judith Kerr School and are looking to the Dulwich Estate to recognise that physical education is no less important for JKPS children than for the pupils at its beneficiary schools.