Campus sale near Grenfell tower ‘shameful’, says new college principal following investigation

A college that sold its main campus to make way for housing has apologised for the “shameful behaviours of past management” following an independent review into the controversial sell-off.

The site on Wornington Road, one of Kensington and Chelsea College’s two main campuses, was sold for £25.3 million to the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea in 2016 under a lease-back deal.

The local authority then outlined proposals to demolish the building for housing, which became controversial when the fire at nearby Grenfell Tower in June last year killed at least 80 people.

The Save Wornington College Campaign attracted huge support to protest the sale, which was led by Edward Daffarn, who escaped the blaze.

Now, an independent review conducted by investigative consultancy firm Kroll has concluded that the sale was “plainly wrong” and not in the interests of its local community.

The report catalogues the failure of management and governance in several areas including a lack of consultation with the local community in the period before the sale, and failure to consider and evaluate alternatives to a sale to RBKC.

It also highlights shortcomings in determining the final sale price of the Wornington Road site; and “excluding” of college student and staff governors before the final decision to sell the college to RBKC.

Negotiations with RBKC are now underway to “determine how the Wornington road site should serve its local community into the long term”.

Kensington and Chelsea College’s new principal, Andy Cole, took the reins in February this year from Dr Elaine McMahon, who served as the college’s interim principal when Mark Brickley resigned with immediate effect in 2016 – who was the man responsible for the sale.

“The report highlights shameful behaviours of past management in excluding staff, students and the local community from its discussions and decision making over the sale,” Mr Cole said.

“There has been a complete break with the past across the last year at executive Leadership as well as board level and we are in negotiations with RBKC to determine how the Wornington Road site will serve the needs of its communities into the long term.”

Kensington and Chelsea College’s interim chair Ian Valvona, who replaced Mary Curnock Cook when she resigned last year, said: “The sale of the college’s Wornington Road site was plainly the wrong thing to do – even when you consider the College’s very difficult financial situation in 2016.

“Today the College apologises for that sale and I want to recognise the role of the local community and the Save Wornington College Campaign for helping to ensure that the full details of this sale finally saw the light of day.”

The sale of the Wornington site was led by Mr Brickley in the face of falling income. In 2012 the college’s income sat at £27.5 million but fell to just £9.25 million in 2016.

But what outraged the community was not only the sale but the way in which it was signed off.

Kroll’s report notes that on April 22, 2016, Mr Brickley “sent an email to the K&CC board of governors stating that the terms of the agreement ‘…now ensure we have the right of first refusal to any space within the future development that is provided as schedule D1 (educational or community use)’.

“The email did not state that K&CC in actuality had no control to compel RBKC to develop a D1 facility as part of a future development.

“The email was not copied to staff/student governors who had been excluded from the main board of governors meetings that discussed the sale of the Kensington Centre to RBKC.”

The furore surrounding the future of KCC in the shadow of the Grenfell Tower made it to the House of Commons earlier this year, after the skills minister Anne Milton promised to find the “right solution” for a “precious” community asset.