The government has intervened to save a further education college near Grenfell Tower after locals warned a plan to replace it with flats would deprive the community of a popular local asset after the fire.
Kensington and Chelsea College, where many Grenfell residents studied, had been due to merge before the end of the year with a much larger institution in another London borough.
Campaigners had warned this was likely to mean the building in North Kensington would close and its courses moved elsewhere. The local council bought the freehold of the site last year and had proposed an idea to develop much of it for flats.
Government ministers have written to the chairs of the two colleges involved, saying any merger plans should be delayed until at least the end of April.
After then, any eventual merger with Ealing, Hammersmith and West London College should be one that “preserves appropriate capacity to deliver for learners in North Kensington”, they wrote.
Anne Milton, the skills minister, and Nick Hurd, whose Home Office brief includes the role of minister for Grenfell victims, told the college chairs that the fire six months ago, in which 71 people died, “served to emphasise the importance of your role in supporting and providing opportunities to the local community”.
The small size of Kensington and Chelsea College, known locally as Wornington College, meant a merger was likely but any plan “will require engagement with the community around the options”, they wrote.
The letter follows a campaign against the merger by local people, who say the decision to sell the college building on Wornington Road to the Conservative-run council for £25m, without consultation with staff, forms part of a wider pattern of aggressive regeneration in North Kensington, the poorest part of the borough.
The council had offered to temporarily lease back the building to the college, but campaigners had been sceptical about whether this could secure its future.
After the campaigners met Milton and Hurd last month, the ministers asked Richard Atkins, the further education commissioner, to conduct an urgent review of the planned merger. He made the recommendations given in the ministers’ letter.
The Save Wornington Campaign, which was sent a copy of the ministers’ letter, said it hoped to use the four-month pause to find a permanent solution.
“This beloved building has educated members of our community for 140 years and we will not allow the council to prevent it remaining as an educational establishment for the benefit of the people who live here,” said Edward Daffarn, from the campaign.