MORE than 170 parents and family members have signed a petition saying they have lost confidence in the council over its handling of an asbestos discovery at a school.

St Mary's Church of England Primary in The Drive, Walthamstow, was due to move to the former Warwick School site in Brooke Road in September as part of a £3 million scheme to expand and treble its intake.

But the project was aborted at the last minute after traces of the toxic fibre were discovered during preparatory building works.

It came after three classes and 18 staff from St Mary's had already relocated to the site early in September 2011, but the council has always insisted that it is "considerably unlikely" that any children would have been exposed prior to the works beginning.

Parents have now demanded answers and a resolution to the "chaos", condemning the council as incompetent and failing to keep families properly informed.

Tensions have run so high that the council claimed an unnamed councillor's car was vandalised and covered with copies of the petition, although parents have strongly criticised the person responsible.

Meanwhile the council has responded to the petition by saying that the cabinet member for children and young people, Cllr Clare Coghill, had apologised that "the high expectations the local authority has set have not been met in this instance".

Some of the children who were meant to be relocated to the Brooke Road are being sent by buses to the former Edinburgh Primary School site instead.

The council's letter admits it could have improved its communication with parents, that the situation is "not ideal" and that taking children to Edinburgh Primary had the potential to increase the risk to pupils' safety because of an increase in traffic around the site.

But it said it was trying to mitigate this by suspending the parking bays outside the school to allow buses to stop right outside it.

The petition by parents alleges that the council ignored independent advice in April 2011 to put an asbestos management plan in place for the site.

It claims the council failed to do so prior to the discovery of the toxic fibre exactly a year later in April 2012.

Campaigners also claim the fiasco has cost the council at least £70,000 per half term - just for transporting children from The Drive site to Edinburgh Primary.

The council says it does not know when children will be able to move into the Brooke Road site.

The government's Health and Safety Executive (HSE) is currently investigating the council over alleged failures to manage asbestos in Waltham Forest Town Hall.

In 2010 the council was criticised by the same agency for failing to manage asbestos properly at four other Walthamstow schools.

Cllr Coghill said in a statement: “Our prime concern is providing high quality education to the children of Waltham Forest.

"The asbestos find at the new school site has created a tremendous hurdle that we are working with the school to overcome.

"At present we expect the school to be open to all students by September 2013 and we are doing everything we can to enable this to happen."

She added: “I have valued being able to work with the school and speak personally to parents about this. We will continue to work hard to deliver excellent school facilities for the borough’s children.”

A spokesman added that the council was considering placing some extra classes at The Drive site rather than at Edinburgh School in the near future.

You can view the online petition here: