The fate of a disused office building that could become a much-needed primary school in north Kingston is now outside councillors' control.

A public inquiry will determine what will happen to Kingsgate Business Centre, which owners hope to turn into a block of student flats.

The three-day hearing with planning inspectors in September will decide whether to grant outline permission for a retail and office block with up to 210 student flats above.

Land acquisition firm Goldcrest, which owns the centre, appealed to the Planning Inspectorate after Kingston Council’s delayed a decision on its application.

The site is a key part of the council’s north Kingston development brief which includes the decommissioned gas holders and Canbury Place car park.

It is also the preferred location for a two-form primary school.

Nikki Connor, 60, who has lived in the Seven Kings Way area for 10 years, said: "It would not bother me if it was students but if I had to choose between student flats and a school I would choose a school. My daughter has a three-year-old and she can't get her into a nursery. We need a school."

A member of the concierge team at the Royal Quarter development in Seven Kings Way, who did not want to be named, said: "Residents fear how close the building will be - it would take away their light. We want this road to be shut and to make it into a two-way for residents."

Councillor David Cunningham said: “We had hoped that the developer would have entered into a discussion on a land swap. While he has every right to go to appeal, I would have liked that to have taken place.

“ I understand the developer is still willing to talk but it is unfortunate that he was not willing to wait.

“Obviously this is something that is very close to our hearts. We would hope between now and September something can be agreed but whether we can is another matter.”

Simon James, former Liberal Democrat councillor and lead for planning, who was not re-elected, said: "It is obviously disappointing when decisions are taken away from local representatives and decided instead by central government bureaucrats. That is why the previous Liberal Democrat administration campaigned for the abolition of the planning inspectorate but it seems Eric Pickles isn't listening."

The public inquiry is expected to begin on September 23.