A leading academies chain has won the race to run a free school on the site of the former Sutton Hospital.

The Harris Federation, which runs nearly 50 schools across the UK, is to launch its first secondary school in Sutton in 2018 after landing the approval of the Government.

It was selected ahead of rival applications from the Cheam Academies Network, which runs Cheam High School, and the The Diocese of Southwark.

The announcement brings an end protracted discussions about the future of the Belmont site, which neighbours the Institute of Cancer Research and The Royal Marsden's Sutton hospital.

The Harris Federation had promised to create 195 places in each year of the secondary free school with a sixth form proposed to follow later.

The school, which will specialise in science and healthcare, was one of two in Sutton approved by the Government on Friday.

The Department for Education (DfE) also granted Orchard Hill College permission to open a new special school academy in the borough.

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A spokeswoman for the Harris Federation said: “We are very pleased that our proposals for creating a new secondary school on the Sutton Hospital site were selected by the government.

“We will create an ambitious and aspirational new school that ensures many more local parents can access outstanding secondary education for their sons and daughters.

"Our Federation has links with all of London’s top medical schools and we are extremely enthusiastic about the potential for creating a specialism in healthcare.

“We will consult parents closely to ensure our plans meet their aspirations for their children.”

Councillor Wendy Mathys, chair of the children, families and education committee, said: “It is fantastic news that the Government has approved the Harris Federation to run the much-needed secondary school proposed for the Sutton Hospital site.

“We look forward to working with the Harris Federation both in our aspiration for new and outstanding educational provision for the borough and also in the development of our exciting plans for the London Cancer Hub.

“We have been very proactive as a council in developing plans for the secondary school early. We look forward to working with the Harris Federation and the Education Funding Agency in making these exciting plans a reality.”

RELATED: £8m land deal secures future school site

Sutton Council bought the hospital site for £8 million last year in the hope of easing the borough's demand for secondary school places.

In October Greenshaw Learning Trust rejected to opportunity to open a school on the site, which they said was too small.

The council said the outcome of the free school applications would be “crucial to understanding the budgetary challenges” it will face over school places in the future.

Conservative councillor for Belmont Jane Pascoe, who also sits on the children, family and education committee, said: "We welcome the appointment of a sponsor at last for the proposed school on the Sutton Hospital site.  

"Harris will be a robust partner for the council and we hope that Harris will become an active member of the secondary school partnership. 

"Thank you to the other applicants – I am sure their plans would have been very popular locally.

"I would also urge the council to raise their game with regard to the urgent need for another secondary school within the borough. Not enough is being done to tackle this incredibly serious issue."

Colin Powell, director of education at the Southwark Diocese, said he felt "great sadness and a heavy heart" that the DfE had rejected its proposal.

He added: "At this moment we haven’t received any detailed feedback.

"The support from parents for Sutton CofE Secondary School has been overwhelming and humbling.

"We know the local community in Sutton are very passionate and care very much about their children and their education and we are very sorry we will not be able to make this vision become a reality.

The two schools were among 77 approved in the latest wave of free schools announced by the DfE on Friday.

Education secretary Justine Greening said: “Our country needs more good school places for children. This next wave of free schools means more options for parents so they can choose a place that really works for their child’s talents and needs.

“Alongside the reforms announced last week this will build on the progress that has seen 1.4 million more children in ‘good’ or ‘outstanding’ schools than in 2010. This will help deliver the true meritocracy the Prime Minister has pledged to create.”