Dozens of parents and children campaigning for a new Catholic secondary school turned out to a debate to hear the council pledge its full support for the plans.

Lord True, leader of Richmond Council, told a packed public gallery that the Pope’s speech to youngsters in Richmond last year made him realise “how sad it was” they had no Catholic secondary education in the borough.

He said: “I thought this is a long standing aspiration of this council and community and it would be great if, in memory of the papal visit and in answer to those aspirations, we could do something.”

Pupils from St Elizabeth's Primary School, in Richmond, were among the crowd of more than 100 supporters who filled York House, in Twickenham, on Tuesday.

The authority was forced to turn away dozens more holding campaign banners who could not fit into the meeting.

Father-of-two Anthony Kennedy, who collected more than 1,100 signatures in favour of a Catholic secondary school, was applauded after delivering his speech.

The newly formed Richmond Inclusive Schools Campaign said it was disappointed no councillors spoke on behalf of residents who oppose the policy.

A poll by the Richmond and Twickenham Times found 63 per cent of 231 participants did not think Richmond should have a Catholic secondary school.

But Mr Kennedy said the borough was one of only two in London without one, forcing its six Catholic primary schools to send up to 280 11-year-olds to other parts of the capital every year.

He said: “The allegation is made by those opposed to faith schools, and this Catholic school in particular, that such schools are divisive and undermine community cohesion.

“In fact the very opposite is true. To any of you who may share such a view, I invite you to visit any one of the Catholic primary schools in this borough. If you do, what you will find is a school community whose whole ethos, indeed very existence, is based on the core values of respect, tolerance and community cohesion.”

Councillor Malcolm Eady, Liberal Democrat spokesman for education and schools, pledged his group’s support for the policy, but said he would be surprised if the Government offered funding.

He said: “We need to be realistic, money and sites will be tight.”

Lord True said he hoped to announce details of the council’s plans by the summer.